How Government Manages the Lottery


The lottery is an arrangement in which a number or group of numbers are drawn and prizes allocated by chance. A percentage of profits are often given to good causes. In many countries, governments organize lotteries to raise funds for public services and projects, such as building roads or funding a university. The practice dates back to ancient times. Augustus Caesar held a lottery for municipal repairs in Rome, and people have long used it to distribute goods like dinnerware, or even lands and houses.

Those who play the lottery are usually aware of the low odds. Unlike the majority of gambling consumers, who are not fully aware of the odds of winning, lottery players go in clear-eyed about their chances. Many have quote-unquote systems – based on the irrational – about what stores to buy from, when to shop, or how many tickets to purchase. In some cases, such gamblers have been playing the lottery for years, spending $50 or $100 a week.

The lottery is also a classic example of the way government at all levels manages an activity from which it profits. State lotteries are a form of gambling, and public officials face constant pressure to increase revenue and profits. This is not an easy task, especially in an anti-tax era when voters want states to spend more money and politicians look at the lottery as an unobtrusive source of “painless” revenue. As the growth in lottery revenues has stalled, states have expanded into new games and aggressively promoted their existence.