The Decline of the Lottery


A lottery is an arrangement in which a prize or other rewards are allocated by means of a process that relies wholly on chance. Lotteries are used for a variety of purposes, including distributing prizes among members of a group who have paid to enter a competition, filling vacancies in a sports team or school, assigning placements in an internship program and more.

When state governments adopted the lottery in the 1960s, many saw it as a way to fund public services without significantly increasing taxes on middle- and working class families. The initial enthusiasm was strong, but over time, the lottery became a familiar part of state government and its revenues began to decline in the late 1970s.

In recent years, however, states have been introducing a number of new games to attract and retain customers. These include scratch-off tickets and instant games, which offer smaller prizes with higher odds of winning than traditional state lotteries. Some states also have launched online lottery games, and most offer a mobile application that allows players to check results and purchase tickets on the go.

Despite the popularity of these games, a number of factors have contributed to the steady decline in lottery revenues. One important factor is the tendency of lottery officials to focus on short-term revenue growth, rather than on long-term policy considerations. State legislators, convenience store operators, suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns from lottery suppliers are widely reported), and teachers (in those states in which lottery proceeds are earmarked for education) all lobby for more games. The result has been a steady expansion of the lottery in size and complexity, but not in revenue.