Public Policy and the Lottery

Lottery is an organization that conducts a game of chance in which the participants have an equal opportunity to win a prize. The games may be conducted by a governmental agency, a private enterprise, or a combination of both. Lottery has been around for centuries and is popular in many countries. It is often a major source of income for government budgets. It is also a popular form of entertainment. It is not considered gambling by some people because it involves the drawing of numbers instead of a dice roll.

Lotteries attract public support in part because they can be presented as a “painless tax.” This appeal is especially effective when state governments are facing budget crises. Yet studies show that the popularity of lotteries is unrelated to a state’s actual fiscal health, and it is largely dependent on the degree to which lottery proceeds are perceived as benefiting a specific public good such as education.

Once lotteries are established, they develop broad and specific constituencies: convenience store owners (for whom the proceeds provide a steady revenue stream); lottery suppliers (whose employees donate heavily to state political campaigns); teachers (whose salaries are sometimes supported by lottery funds); and state legislators, who quickly become accustomed to a new source of revenue. Moreover, they are a classic example of the fragmentation of public policy-making, in which authority over the lottery is divided between executive and legislative branches and further divided among the various departments and agencies. This leads to incoherent public policy, with lottery officials often making decisions without taking the broader impact of their actions into account.