June 24, 2024

Is the Lottery a Public Good?

2 min read

Lottery is a game in which people purchase tickets to win prizes (typically cash or goods) based on random selection. Traditionally, the prize fund is determined by a fixed percentage of ticket sales, after expenses and profits for the organizer are deducted. Historically, the lottery has been a popular way to raise money for state governments.

Most states legislate a state monopoly; establish a publicly owned company to operate the lottery; begin operations with a relatively small number of fairly simple games; and, under pressure for additional revenues, progressively expand the operation with new games. As a result, very few, if any, states have a coherent gambling policy, and the general welfare is taken into consideration only intermittently, at best.

One argument used by proponents of the lottery is that it provides a source of “painless” revenue: players voluntarily spend their own money to support a specific public good, such as education, without incurring any taxes. This argument is especially effective during economic stress, when voters want states to spend more, and politicians look at lotteries as a painless alternative to raising taxes.

In truth, the lottery is an example of a classic form of government corruption: The casting of lots to determine decisions and fates has a long history (see, for instance, the Old Testament); but using it to raise money for state coffers is distinctly unsavory. Moreover, the message conveyed by the lottery is that coveting money and the things it can buy is good, even a civic duty. This is a lie; God forbids it (see Ecclesiastes 5:10).

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