Lottery Critics

The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights is recorded in many ancient documents, including the Bible. Lotteries became common in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and were first tied directly to the United States in 1612. Since then, state governments have used lotteries to raise money for townships, wars, colleges, public-works projects, and a wide range of other purposes. The majority of lotteries are operated by the individual state governments and do not permit competition from other commercial lotteries. The profits from these lotteries are used solely for government purposes, and the state governments are generally regarded as having a monopoly on the sale of lottery tickets in their jurisdictions.

The critics of lotteries often focus on specific features of the operation and administration of the lottery. They point to problems with advertising (which, they say, commonly presents misleading information about the odds of winning the prize); the fact that the lottery carries a heavy burden on lower-income households; the regressive effect it has on those who play it; and the tendency for revenues to expand rapidly in early phases and then level off or even decline.

Other criticisms are based on more general concerns about the nature of the lottery industry. One is that the industry is a classic example of policy decisions being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview. As a result, a variety of competing interests and concerns are brought to bear on each decision, and the resulting policies are often not consistent with state or federal policies.