Is the Lottery Good For State Budgets?

The lottery is the most popular form of gambling in America. People spent upwards of $100 billion on tickets in 2021, and state governments promote them as an important source of revenue. But just how meaningful that revenue is in broader state budgets, and whether it’s worth the trade-offs to people who lose money, are a matter of debate.

Lotteries are games where you pay a fee to choose a set of numbers and have machines randomly spit them out. If the numbers you select match those chosen by a machine, you win a prize. A lot of people have different strategies for trying to improve their odds. For instance, they may avoid choosing numbers that end in the same digit or pick numbers that have appeared recently in the previous drawing. Some players also join a syndicate, in which they pool their money to purchase multiple tickets. The prize money is shared among the members based on their contributions.

Some states allocate a portion of their lottery profits to different causes, such as education. New York, for example, has allocated $30 billion to education since introducing its first lottery in 1967.

In the immediate post-World War II period, more states began to introduce their own lotteries, primarily as a way to raise revenue without raising taxes. Today, more than half of all US states and territories have one. Some states offer a single game while others participate in multi-state games that have larger jackpots.