The Lottery – A Popular and Controversial Means of Raising Money


A lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by lot or by chance. In the strictest sense, it is a form of gambling in which people purchase chances called tickets and then a drawing is held from a pool of all the tickets sold.

In most states, the lottery is an important source of revenue for state governments. However, it has a long history of being both a highly popular and controversial means of raising money.

The evolution of state lotteries is a classic case of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no general overview; the authority for governing the industry being fragmented between the legislative and executive branches; and pressure to increase revenues often resulting in the development of extensive special constituencies that are dependent on the lottery for their livelihood.

Lottery revenues typically expand dramatically in the initial years of a lottery, level off, and begin to decline as the number of games and types of prizes grow. This is because a substantial portion of lottery profits are spent on advertising and promotion, primarily in the form of television and radio broadcasts.

Critics say that lottery revenues are a regressive tax on lower-income groups, and that the state’s duty to protect the public welfare conflicts with its desire to increase revenues. In addition, they argue that the lottery creates an environment in which the government is unable to protect people from illegal gambling. Lastly, they assert that the lottery is an addictive activity that can lead to other forms of abuse.