Public Benefits and the Lottery


The casting of lots to decide matters has a long history (in fact, it is mentioned in the Bible) and lotteries have been used since the middle ages to raise money for public projects. Often, lottery prizes are a mix of monetary and non-monetary benefits. Many people enjoy playing lottery games because they provide an entertaining alternative to spending time at home. However, there is a negative expected value associated with these games. People should play only with money that they can afford to lose.

Most state lotteries are little more than traditional raffles in which tickets are sold and winning numbers drawn at a future date, often weeks or months away. A small percentage of the pool is deducted for costs and profit to organizers and a larger percentage is normally available as prize money.

When a large jackpot is awarded, the chances of winning are often advertised on newscasts and websites. Super-sized jackpots draw more attention and lead to higher sales. Eventually, though, the novelty wears off and revenues level out or even decline. This leads to a cycle in which new games are introduced in the hopes of maintaining or increasing revenues.

Lotteries have broad and sustained popular support, especially when they are marketed as benefiting a particular public good such as education. Moreover, studies have shown that the objective fiscal conditions of states do not influence whether or when lotteries are established. Instead, the success of a lottery is often linked to its ability to provide a palatable alternative to increasing taxes or cutting back on vital services.