The Lottery


The lottery is an organized public gambling arrangement that awards prizes (typically cash) based on chance. In the United States, state governments have used the lottery to raise money for a wide variety of purposes and the public has overwhelmingly approved such arrangements.

Lottery advocates argue that a lottery is an efficient way to raise revenue for government activities. They cite its popularity with the public, its relative simplicity and speed of operation, and its ability to provide large prizes for relatively small outlays of cash. In addition, they say, a lottery can be used to promote a particular public good, such as education.

Critics are equally convinced that a lottery is not a legitimate method of raising revenue for state governments. They point out that lottery profits are essentially “painless” taxes and therefore do not have the same political appeal as other forms of taxation. They also argue that a lottery can lead to addictive gambling behavior and is a major regressive tax on lower-income groups.

Since New Hampshire introduced the modern state lottery in 1964, most other states have followed suit. Despite initial resistance from some groups, the vast majority of Americans support state lotteries. In virtually every case, the argument for adoption of a lottery follows a similar pattern: a state legislature legislates a monopoly; establishes an independent state agency or corporation to run the lottery, instead of licensing private firms in return for a share of proceeds; launches the lottery with a limited number of games; and, due to persistent pressure to increase revenues, progressively expands its operations.