The Lottery As a Public Funding Source

The lottery is a game where people give up something of value for a small chance of receiving a prize, the value of which can be quite substantial. Some examples of modern lotteries include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away randomly, and even the selection of jury members. In the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, we are exposed to many of the sins of humanity in a simple setting in a remote village.

Despite the widespread popularity of the lottery, there are serious concerns with its use as a means of raising funds for public projects. In particular, lottery revenues are often a hidden tax on citizens that is not acknowledged or disclosed by legislators and officials. The lottery industry has grown into a massive business, and critics charge that its advertising is often misleading. Lottery advertising frequently cites untrue odds of winning, inflates the value of winnings (which are paid in annual installments over 20 years, with inflation and taxes dramatically eroding their current value), and generally promotes unrealistic expectations about how much money is available.

In addition, lotteries often develop extensive and specific constituencies within states, including convenience stores (where tickets are sold); lottery suppliers (heavy contributors to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers, who receive substantial appropriations from lottery proceeds; and state lawmakers, who quickly become accustomed to the steady flow of revenue from lotteries. As a result, state politicians are often reluctant to make major changes to the lottery structure and procedures.