The Pros and Cons of the Official Lottery

Lotteries have a long history and have been used for many purposes, including distributing property and money. A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by a process that depends wholly on chance. Lotteries are run by governments at all levels. Governments run lotteries in an effort to profit from their sales, and there is always pressure to increase revenues.

State lotteries are often viewed as an alternative to raising taxes, especially during anti-tax eras when voters express little enthusiasm for cutting back on cherished state programs and services. In addition, lotteries are a relatively painless source of revenue for states, compared to income, property, and sales tax collections. But state lotteries are not without controversy. Critics raise concerns about their role in promoting gambling and about the effects of the gambling industry on society as a whole. They also question the appropriateness of governments at any level running an enterprise from which they will profit, particularly in an era when state budget crises are commonplace.

In the early days of modern state lotteries, legislators earmarked lottery proceeds for specific purposes, such as public education. But critics point out that this practice does not actually increase funding for the program, and in fact, it simply reduces the appropriations that would otherwise be allotted from the general fund. Moreover, lottery critics argue that state-run lotteries are not necessarily better at allocating funds to programs than private firms could be.