Lottery Commissions and the Message They Send


Lottery is a form of gambling in which a prize, often money, is awarded through a random procedure. The term is derived from the Dutch word lot, meaning fate or fortune. Modern examples include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. A lottery is only considered a gambling arrangement, however, when payment of a consideration (property, work, or money) is made for the chance to receive the prize. Lotteries are common in Europe and the United States, where they play an important role in raising money for public expenditures.

In the United States, state governments promote their own games as ways to raise revenue without imposing onerous taxes on low-income families. In 2021, Americans spent upward of $100 billion on tickets, making it the most popular form of gambling in the country. But it’s worth considering what kind of message governments are sending by promoting this vice, especially when it comes to children.

Lottery commissions rely on two messages primarily. They promote the idea that lottery games are fun, and they advertise jackpots in large numbers on billboards and television shows. This is intended to obscure the regressivity of lottery playing, and it’s meant to make people think that they’re not spending their hard-earned dollars on an addictive vice. The second message is that lottery plays are a great way to help the needy, which again obscures the regressivity of the practice.