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Public Interest in Lottery Games


A lottery is a system of raising money for public or private purposes by selling tickets with numbers on them. Those who match the winning numbers receive prizes. Lotteries are popular in the United States, although they are banned in some countries.

Lottery revenues typically expand rapidly after a new game is introduced, but then level off and eventually decline. In order to maintain or increase revenue, lottery games must be constantly introduced. But, do these new games serve the public interest?

Research shows that lottery players tend to be men, blacks, or Hispanics; those in the upper middle class; and those who have completed some post-secondary education. While this demonstrates that socio-economic factors influence lottery play, it also suggests that people choose to buy tickets for the thrill and fantasy of becoming wealthy. In terms of expected value, such purchases are irrational.

Many of the state lotteries are run as business enterprises, and their marketing is directed toward persuading target groups to spend their money. This kind of promotion of gambling runs counter to a public interest that might include concerns about the effects on the poor, problem gamblers, and others. Also, it puts lottery officials at odds with the legislature and executive branches in terms of addressing issues that arise. As a result, few states have a comprehensive “lottery policy.”

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