Public Policy and the Lottery


The lottery is a gambling game in which tickets are sold and prizes are determined by chance in a drawing. A state may hold a lottery to raise money for a particular purpose, such as education. It is also possible for individuals to organize private lotteries to raise money for charitable purposes.

A common element of modern lotteries is the use of a system to record both the identities of the bettors and the numbers or other symbols on which they stake their money. The bettors deposit their tickets with the lottery organization, where they are recorded for subsequent shuffling and possible selection in a drawing. Alternatively, each bettors may place their money on a receipt that is numbered and returned to them upon payment. Regardless of the mechanism used, it is essential that each betor know his or her ticket has been selected and the prize awarded.

The history of state lotteries is a classic example of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no general overview. Lottery officials are usually pressured to maximize revenues, which often requires advertising that promotes the lottery to groups who should not be encouraged to spend their money on a form of gambling. Moreover, the constant need to generate new games is inherently at cross-purposes with the overall public interest, which should not be dependent on a lottery’s success. For these reasons, few, if any, states have a coherent “lottery policy.”