• Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Is Promoting Gambling Really the Role of the State?


Jul 7, 2024


The lottery is the most popular form of gambling in America, with Americans spending over $80 billion a year on tickets. But the risk-to-reward ratio isn’t that great and buying a ticket or two can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in foregone savings that could be going into a retirement account or paying off debt.

The word lottery traces back centuries, with biblical instructions to draw lots for land and Roman emperors using lotteries to give away slaves and property. Lotteries also financed many projects in colonial-era America, including the building of the British Museum and paving streets.

Lotteries are run as businesses to maximize revenues, so marketing focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the games. This can lead to negative consequences for poor people, problem gamblers and others. But even if those problems are minimal, is promoting gambling really the role of a state?

The first recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries, where towns held public drawings to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. These were similar to modern raffles, with participants purchasing tickets for a future drawing, often weeks or months away. With time, however, lottery innovation led to the introduction of instant-win games that offered smaller prizes but higher odds. In addition, the introduction of computerized systems made possible large jackpots and a constant stream of new games. Revenues typically expand rapidly when a lottery is introduced, but then tend to level off or decline. To maintain or increase revenues, lottery operators rely on innovations such as new games and lower prize levels to attract players.