The Problems and Benefits of the Lottery


If a state adopts a lottery, it creates a government-sponsored game in which players pay a small sum for the chance to win a substantial sum. States often delegate the responsibility for administering the lottery to a special agency. These agencies select and license retailers, train employees to sell and redeem tickets, promote the games, oversee prize payouts, and ensure that the rules are followed by players.

The lottery is a popular form of gambling, but it has some serious problems, including its effect on poor people and problem gamblers. Also, studies have found that it is disproportionately sold in areas with higher proportions of low-income and minority residents.

Lotteries can be lucrative for the states that operate them, but those revenues come from somewhere. The money is often spent on promotional activities, and studies have found that the lottery is disproportionately sold in areas with lower incomes and more problem gamblers.

Until the 1970s, most state lotteries were little more than traditional raffles, with the public buying tickets for an upcoming drawing weeks or months in the future. In the 1970s, however, innovations such as scratch-off tickets and fast-pick numbers began to take hold. Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. Six states—Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada—don’t have them, with reasons ranging from religious concerns to the fact that they already get a cut of gambling revenue.