Across the country, people spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets every year in the hope of winning big. The proceeds are a major source of state revenue, but it’s also a big business for private ticket sellers and has a troubling track record. Lotteries are a regressive form of gambling, meaning they disproportionately hurt low-income and minority populations.
But while the message that lotteries are good for society may be appealing, it is flawed and obscures how much money they cost taxpayers. Most states have a monopoly on the promotion of lotteries, and even those that are privately run still provide substantial profits to their promoters and have a reputation for corruption. And even when the winning numbers are drawn, there’s a big gap between the amount of money the state receives and what it spends.
Lottery commissions have moved away from promoting the specific benefits of lottery funds for state budgets and now focus on two messages primarily: one is that playing the lottery is fun, and the experience of scratching a ticket is enjoyable. The other is that it’s a civic duty to play the lottery because it raises money for the state.
Lottery winners are exposed to a range of risks from scammers, including financial advisers, real estate agents and family members who want their share of the money. In response to this, lawmakers in New York have introduced legislation to allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.