Lottery Politics

In the United States, all state lotteries are monopolies that allow no commercial competition. They rely solely on their own profits to operate and expand. The evolution of lottery policies, therefore, is a textbook example of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview or accountability. Lottery officials are heavily dependent on their constituencies: convenience store operators (who often own or lease lottery stores); lotto-supplier manufacturers and distributors (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are routinely reported); teachers (lotteries earmark proceeds for education funding); and even state legislators (who become accustomed to the regular flow of additional revenue).

The lottery appeals to people because, at some level, it’s just fun. And, in the case of big jackpots, there’s a kind of meritocratic belief that somebody — anybody! — is going to get rich, and the more tickets sold, the better the odds are for that person.

It’s also, of course, a form of gambling, and there are plenty of folks who play the lottery seriously. Often these are people who have some quote-unquote system that they believe in, about lucky numbers and lucky stores and the times of day to buy tickets and so forth. But, of course, they still realize that the odds are long. In the end, there is a bit of an ugly underbelly to this, which is that lottery players are essentially betting on themselves. And, in a time of limited social mobility, it can be hard for people to give up on their dream of winning the lottery.

Posted in: Gambling