Public Benefits of the Lottery

The lottery is a popular form of gambling in which participants place bets for the chance to win a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize state or national lotteries. The prizes can be cash, goods or services. In the United States, the money raised by lottery ticket sales is primarily used for public purposes. While the lottery has been criticized as an addictive form of gambling and its winners are often hailed as “victims” of greed, the profits have been substantial and a number of states have found lotteries to be an effective source of revenue.

While making decisions and determining fates by the drawing of lots has a long record (including several instances in the Bible), the establishment of lotteries for material gain is more recent. The first recorded public lottery was organized by Augustus Caesar to raise funds for municipal repairs in the city of Rome. It distributed tickets and prizes, which typically consisted of fancy dinnerware.

New Hampshire launched the modern state lottery in 1964, and other states quickly followed suit. They did so despite the objections of some citizens, who felt that it was wrong for public dollars to be spent on chance. Lotteries grew to be widely supported because they provided revenue for state government that could not otherwise be obtained without raising taxes or cutting other public services.

Although state lotteries have broad public support, they also develop a very specific constituency of convenience store operators and their suppliers; teachers (lottery proceeds are often earmarked for education); and state legislators, who become accustomed to receiving large contributions from lottery suppliers during election campaigns. In addition, because lotteries are run as a business and a focus of advertising is on maximizing revenues, they are operating at cross-purposes with the general public interest.