Public Works and the Lottery

Lottery is a game where players buy tickets, either individually or as groups, and then win prizes by matching numbers. People play for fun, to try to get rich, or to improve their lives by buying a better car or home, etc. The lottery industry has grown tremendously and contributes billions annually to state governments.

It is often argued that the lottery should be used to fund public works projects, since it provides painless revenue for government. But critics point out that it also promotes gambling and its addictive behavior and that it is a major regressive tax on poorer families. They argue that the state is at cross purposes in its desire to increase lottery revenues and its duty to protect the general welfare.

Moreover, because the lottery is run as a business, its advertising necessarily emphasizes winning big money and encourages people to spend more than they can afford. It is also widely criticized as a form of moral corruption, as it promotes coveting the things that money can buy, which God forbids (see Exodus 20:17).

State lotteries are an example of policymaking made in piecemeal fashion, with little or no general overview and control. The result is that the lottery industry develops extensive, specific constituencies—convenience store owners; lottery suppliers; teachers (in states where lotteries raise funds for education); and, of course, state legislators who become accustomed to a steady stream of painless state income.