Lottery Marketing in a Post-Growth Economy

Lottery is a form of gambling in which participants draw numbers to win prizes. It has long been a popular form of public entertainment. The first recorded lotteries appeared in the 15th century in the Low Countries, where towns used them to raise money for town fortifications and other purposes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the French monarchy attempted to organize a national lottery to help state finances. This attempt was a fiasco.

Currently, almost all states offer some kind of lottery. Lottery sales are huge, generating billions of dollars in revenue for states each year. But, in a world where consumers are increasingly skeptical of government claims, state lotteries face substantial challenges.

In the past, state lotteries typically marketed themselves as a “painless” source of revenue for state government, providing a benefit without imposing a cost on voters (in contrast, taxes impose a direct cost and often have negative consequences). This argument was particularly effective during periods of economic stress, when it could be used to avoid discussing other sources of state funding that might require tax increases or cuts in services.

Today, lotteries use a different strategy to promote their operations. They rely on two main messages. One is that playing the lottery is fun and makes you feel good. The other is that it’s a civic duty to support the state by buying a ticket. These campaigns are aimed at a broad base of consumers, including convenience store owners and suppliers; teachers (in states in which lotteries provide a share of proceeds for education); and state legislators (who become accustomed to the extra cash). The resulting messages may obscure the regressive nature of the lottery and its potential for compulsive gambling.