Public Education and the Lottery


A lottery is a game of chance where people pay a small amount for the opportunity to win a big prize. Historically, the prize has been money. Today, however, many state lotteries offer other prizes such as cars, houses and college scholarships. People play the lottery for fun or because they believe that it is a way to become rich fast. Some of the largest jackpots in history have been won by individuals who paid a few dollars for a ticket.

Most states and the District of Columbia have a lottery. Lottery games range from the traditional raffle to instant-win scratch-off tickets to daily games where players pick numbers. Lottery revenues tend to expand dramatically upon introduction but eventually level off and even decline, necessitating the addition of new games to maintain or increase revenues.

The earmarking of lottery proceeds for specific purposes, such as public education, is controversial. Critics charge that it allows the legislature to reduce appropriations for other programs and that the lottery is thus no different from any other form of gambling.

Because state lotteries are run as businesses, their advertising necessarily focuses on encouraging target groups to spend their money on the game. This raises questions about whether the promotion of gambling is an appropriate function for a government agency and, if so, about how much the state should take in from the game in order to balance out other appropriations.