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From the start of their modern era in 1964, state lotteries have enjoyed broad and steady public support. This support is no doubt largely based on the perception that lottery proceeds are dedicated to some particular public good, such as education.

But critics also argue that a major negative side effect of lotteries is their promotion of addictive gambling behavior. Further, they allege that lotteries are a major regressive tax on lower-income groups. In addition, they say that the overall operation of a state-sponsored lottery runs at cross purposes with its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens.

Ultimately, however, the question is not whether or not the lottery is a desirable policy but whether or not it should be the source of state revenue. State governments need money to operate, and the state lottery is a relatively safe, low-risk way of raising it.

Nevertheless, the overall operation of a state-sponsored lottery is a classic case of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally rather than in the context of some comprehensive state plan. As a result, few states have developed a coherent gambling or lottery policy and, in many cases, they are essentially dependent on the industry for their revenue. As a consequence, the officials running the lottery have limited discretion to make changes that may be in the public interest.