The Problems of the Lottery

The lottery is a form of gambling in which the prize amounts are allocated by chance. It is a common method of raising money to fund public-works projects, schools, colleges, and other charitable works. While the lottery is a popular way to raise funds, it has also created a series of problems. Its widespread popularity has resulted in the creation of a complex network of state-sponsored activities that are generating increasing amounts of revenue, and it is increasingly difficult to control the growth of this activity.

States differ in how they administer their lotteries. According to a 1998 report by the Council of State Governments, most lotteries are operated by a public corporation or a quasi-governmental agency within the executive branch of the government. In most cases, oversight is vested with a state lottery board or commission, and enforcement of fraud and abuse typically resides with the attorney general’s office or local police.

State lotteries tend to develop broad constituencies that include convenience store operators (who are the usual sellers of tickets); lottery suppliers and their employees (heavy contributions to state political campaigns by these firms are regularly reported); teachers, in states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education; and, in some cases, even state legislators who become accustomed to large and regular infusions of lottery income. In addition, lotteries are popular among the general public. But despite their enormous popularity, the chances of winning are very small and the tax implications for winners are severe.