Public Policy and the Lottery


A lottery is a form of gambling where people buy tickets with a chance to win large sums of money. There are different types of lotteries, including instant-win scratch-off games and daily lotteries where players have to pick three or four numbers.

In the United States, state and federal governments are responsible for lottery revenues. They use these funds to support public services and education.

During the early history of America, lotteries were used to raise money for public projects such as building roads and college campuses. They were also used to help fund the Revolutionary War.

The evolution of state lottery policy is a classic case of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally. Authority – and pressures to expand revenues – are distributed between the legislative and executive branches, and the general public welfare is often ignored.

Once a state lottery is established, revenues generally grow rapidly in the first few years; but then begin to level off and decline. In some cases, these revenues are spent in a manner inconsistent with the general welfare, such as on advertising, or they are diverted to other purposes. For example, some states earmark a portion of their revenues for education, while others simply keep them.