The Evolution of the Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling in which one or more prizes are allocated by an arrangement that relies wholly on chance. While the prizes can be considerable, the costs of lottery operation and promotion inevitably diminish the size of the overall prize pool. In addition, the lottery is invariably prone to the pressures that result from continuous demand for new revenue sources. This dynamic causes the lottery to evolve continuously in a direction that is often independent of general public welfare considerations.

The most common form of lottery involves purchasing tickets with a set of numbers, usually from one to 59. A large portion of the total prize money is reserved for costs of the drawing and profits to its state or private sponsor. A percentage is also reserved for “rollover” winnings. The remaining prize money is available to the winners.

A lottery’s success depends largely on its ability to persuade potential players that the money they spend is being spent for a virtuous cause. This argument is especially powerful in times of economic stress, when states are facing tax increases or cuts in government programs. It is not surprising, however, that the same argument has been successful even when a state’s fiscal condition is strong.

As a result of the continual evolution of the lottery, few state governments have coherent “gambling policy.” Instead, public officials face the challenge of deciding how to best use the funds they receive, in an environment in which their authority and control is fragmented and limited by the ongoing competition for revenues.