Is the Lottery a Public Good?


Lottery is a form of gambling in which tokens are distributed or sold and the winning ones selected by lot for prizes. Historically, governments and licensed promoters used it to raise funds for public purposes such as building museums, buying a battery of cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British during the American Revolution, and rebuilding Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Initially, state legislatures promoted the lottery as an alternative source of revenue. In times of economic stress, they argued that it could provide a painless way to finance government programs without raising taxes on the general population. They also argued that it was a “fairer” method of taxation, since those who play the lottery voluntarily spend their money.

As the popularity of the lottery increased, states expanded its offerings, and it became a major source of state revenue. However, the growth of the lottery as a source of state funding did not necessarily correspond to the health of the state’s financial situation. In fact, research shows that lotteries gain wide approval even in states that do not face substantial budget challenges.

As a business, the lottery is designed to maximize its revenues. Its advertising therefore targets specific groups of people who are most likely to spend money on the tickets. These marketing efforts have raised questions about whether or not the lottery is an appropriate function for the government to undertake, given that it promotes gambling and may expose some people to problems such as addiction.