Lottery Advertising

The casting of lots for decision-making and determining fates has a long history. Lotteries have been used to fund a wide range of projects, from paving streets and building bridges to funding the construction of the British Museum and rebuilding Faneuil Hall in Boston. They also played an important role in the establishment of the first English colonies and helped finance such projects as supplying a battery of guns for defense in Philadelphia and rebuilding the Virginia Company’s warehouse. The lottery became increasingly popular during the 18th century, with a number of prominent people sponsoring lotteries to raise funds for various purposes.

Lottery advertising often emphasizes the benefits of winning, claiming that lottery proceeds help to support specific public goods such as education. This argument is particularly effective in times of economic stress, as it can help to offset fears of tax increases or cuts to public services. However, studies show that the objective fiscal circumstances of state governments do not seem to influence how much of a share of budgets lottery revenues receive.

Lottery advertisements also promote the message that playing the lottery is fun, and this is a major factor in their success. However, this is a misleading message that obscures the regressive nature of lottery gambling and the significant share of state budgets that it takes up. Moreover, it overlooks the inextricable link between playing and addiction to gambling. I have spoken to a number of committed lottery players, people who play for years and spend $50 or $100 a week. Their stories are both fascinating and revealing.