The Lottery and Its Impact on State Budgets


Lottery, the casting of lots to determine fates or other affairs, has a long history in human society, with a record of use as far back as the Old Testament. Modern state lotteries, however, are of relatively recent origin. They have been widely adopted throughout the world as a way to raise money for public projects such as roads, canals, churches, schools, and colleges. In colonial America, lotteries were used to fund military and civilian ventures as well as private ones, such as Benjamin Franklin’s successful lottery to pay for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British.

While critics argue that the existence of lotteries is inconsistent with the principles of religious freedom, and that they promote compulsive gambling among those who play, the fact remains that a significant number of people find lotteries to be fun and enjoyable. Many play frequently, and spend substantial amounts of their incomes on tickets. While some of these people are irrational gamblers, others are clear-eyed about the odds and make decisions based on statistical analysis. These people know that their chances of winning are low, but they continue to play for the joy of it and because they believe that winning the lottery will bring them good luck in the future.

The popularity of lottery games also makes them vulnerable to criticisms of their fiscal impact on the state government. The amount of prize money is an important part of the appeal, and it must be kept fairly high to sustain robust sales. But this reduces the percentage of ticket sales that can be turned over to other state purposes, such as education. This is especially true in states where a large portion of the revenues is awarded to teachers.