Lottery Funding – Is it Fair to Rely on a Game of Chance to Fund Public Goods?


Lottery is a form of gambling where prizes are allocated through a process that relies entirely on chance. It can be used to allocate a position among equally qualified candidates, fill a vacancy in a sports team, or award scholarships at a university. A bettor will write his name and the amount staked on a ticket that is then shuffled and possibly selected in the lottery drawing. The winner will be awarded the prize, which is usually cash.

The lottery is a popular way to fund public goods, and its popularity has increased in recent years as state governments are struggling with fiscal crises and seeking solutions that won’t enrage an anti-tax electorate. But is it fair to rely on a game of chance to raise money for the things we need?

Some people defend lottery spending by suggesting that players don’t understand how unlikely it is to win, or that they enjoy the game anyway. But this view of lottery playing is deeply flawed. First, it ignores that many people are irrationally addicted to gambling, and second, it ignores the ways that state lottery commissions promote their games and encourage continued play by creating a venue where low-income, less educated, nonwhite Americans will continuously spend money on a hope that they might get lucky.

Whether they are buying Powerball tickets at check-cashing outlets or scratch-offs while shopping for groceries, the people who play the lottery spend an average of $80 billion per year. Those numbers add up quickly, especially when you consider that most lottery winners end up bankrupt in a few years.