Public Policy and the Lottery

A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to determine a prize. Prizes are usually paid in small increments over a period of time and are reduced by taxes and other expenses. Lottery is a popular way to raise funds for public projects, and it is often perceived as being more ethical than collecting taxes. It has also been criticized for fueling compulsive gambling and having a regressive impact on lower-income groups.

Despite the wide popularity of lottery games, few states have developed comprehensive gambling or lotteries policies. Instead, state lotteries rely on specific constituencies (convenience store owners; suppliers of the games, who make heavy contributions to political campaigns); teachers (in states in which lottery revenues are earmarked for education); state legislators; and players themselves. As a result, little systematic analysis of the desirability or practicality of lotteries exists.

The development of state lotteries is a classic example of the piecemeal, incremental nature of public policy. Once a lottery is established, it becomes hard to reverse the momentum created by its own success. As a result, many states struggle with the problem of lotteries that have become dependent on a small group of specific constituencies. Consequently, state officials often find themselves faced with the dilemma of maintaining a lottery while addressing complaints from those who do not play and those who do not support it.