Public Policy and the Lottery


Lottery is a classic example of public policy that develops piecemeal and incrementally, without any overall direction or control. It is rare for any state to have a coherent gambling or lottery policy. This is largely because authority over lotteries is divided between toto hk the legislative and executive branches of government, with decisions made by each branch in an isolated fashion. Hence, little consideration is given to the broader impact on the state’s economy and social welfare when these policy decisions are being made.

Until the 1970s, state lotteries were little more than traditional raffles. Participants would purchase tickets for a drawing that took place in the future, and prizes could be anything from a large jackpot to small gifts such as dinnerware. This model was popular in Europe as a way of spreading wealth during Saturnalian feasts, and Roman emperors used it to distribute slaves and property among their guests.

State lotteries continue to have broad popularity. They are hailed by many as a painless alternative to higher taxes, and they tend to generate surprisingly high levels of revenues. Nevertheless, they do not necessarily benefit the state’s fiscal health. As Clotfelter and Cook point out, “lotteries are able to win broad support even when the objective fiscal condition of a state’s government is good.” Lottery advocates also argue that proceeds from the games are earmarked for a specific public purpose (e.g., education). This provides a message to players that their money is being put toward a worthy cause.