Lottery Critics


Lottery is a form of gambling in which people bet on the outcome of a drawing in which numbers are drawn. It is often organized so that a percentage of proceeds is donated to good causes. It is a form of gambling that has long been a part of human culture and, even after many states have legalized it, remains an important source of entertainment for millions of Americans.

The casting of lots for the distribution of property and other goods has a long history (it is mentioned in the Bible, for example). In fact, lotteries as we know them began in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Town records show that they were used for a variety of purposes, including raising funds to build walls and town fortifications and helping the poor.

Those who play lotteries can be very serious about it, especially in cases where they are playing for a significant sum of money. These players have all sorts of quote-unquote systems, about lucky numbers and the best places to buy tickets and the time of day to buy them, etc. And they are all aware that the odds of winning are long.

They are also very clear that, while they might enjoy the experience of playing and the chance of winning, it is a form of gambling and a risky one at that. So they plan how much they are willing to spend in advance and make it a regular part of their entertainment budget.

In addition to the general public, lotteries have developed extensive and specific constituencies: convenience store operators (lotteries are the preferred retail sales method); lottery suppliers and vendors (heavy contributions by these companies to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers (in those states where a portion of the proceeds is earmarked for education); compulsive gamblers (the advertising of lotteries tends to imply that they offer relief from this problem); and many other groups.

As the public becomes more familiar with lotteries, however, criticism is turning from a broad indictment of this kind of gambling to more specific concerns about the way lotteries are operated. Criticisms include claims that the lottery is ineffective as a form of public policy and that it is unjust to force the poor to compete with the rich for the same prize money.

There is also the question of whether it is appropriate to promote lottery play through advertising, given that it is inherently deceptive. The fact is that, in almost all states where lotteries are legal, the overwhelming majority of adults report playing at least once a year. And while some of those people have the ability to responsibly manage their gambling behavior, others do not. The fact is that lotteries continue to be a powerful force in American society, and they will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. But we can do better. We can help protect people from being harmed by the marketing practices of these organizations and teach them how to make informed decisions about their gambling.