Should You Play a State Lottery?

Lotteries are a lucrative source of revenue for state governments. These programs typically have a broad public support. In some states, up to 60% of adults say they’ve played the lottery at least once a year. But they also have particular constituencies. Some of these groups are powerful, including teachers and convenience store operators, which make heavy political contributions. And state legislators quickly become accustomed to the extra revenue. Since the lottery began in New Hampshire in 1964, no state has abolished it.

In the United States, the lottery generates approximately $70 billion a year. This is a significant amount of money that is not going toward retirement savings or credit card debt. In fiscal year 2014, lottery revenue accounted for 10% of state budgets. Despite this, many lottery players are low and moderate-income.

While most states have state-run lotteries, six states do not have one. For instance, Mississippi and Nevada both take considerable revenue from gambling taxes, and Alaska traditionally had oil revenues that covered its budget. However, the current budget crisis may change attitudes towards lotteries. In either case, you’re better off playing a lottery that’s run by a state agency.

Some people believe that state lotteries should be earmarked to benefit a specific public good, such as education, while others view them as a means to boost overall government revenue. However, this approach is misleading. In reality, when lottery proceeds are earmarked to benefit specific programs, they reduce appropriations from the general fund. Therefore, the money “saved” stays in the general fund and can be used for whatever purpose the legislature desires. Despite these drawbacks, the lottery has largely gained widespread public support.