Social and Political Implications of the Lottery

The lottery is an established and popular gambling form. Its popularity in the United States dates back to colonial America, where it was used for a variety of purposes, including public works projects, canals, churches, colleges, etc. In the modern era, state lotteries have grown tremendously and are ubiquitous: about half of U.S. adults play at least once a year, and many more watch the jackpots dangle from billboards as they drive to work.

Lotteries generate substantial revenues for their states, but they also have important broader social and political implications. Critics charge that lottery advertising often presents misleading information about odds of winning; inflates the value of lottery jackpots (a prize paid over years is subject to inflation, taxes, and other deductions); and generally misrepresents the overall financial health of the state.

To test these claims, we have analyzed the ads run by lottery operators across the country. We found that they all use similar linguistic techniques, such as using the word “win” frequently and employing a positive tone. The messages convey a message of glorification and an underlying regressive notion that the lottery is a good thing because it helps the state.

It’s true that state lotteries provide substantial revenue for governments, but they do so at the expense of people who are not as well-off as the lottery’s target audience. In an anti-tax era, this is a dangerous precedent for the democratic principle of equal protection under the law.