The State Lottery and Its Critics

state lottery

The state lottery generates significant revenues for American states, enabling them to fund important public services and programs such as education, infrastructure, and public safety. In many states, a portion of the proceeds are earmarked for specific purposes such as college scholarships or environmental conservation. But critics point out that these “earmarked” funds remain a part of the general budget, to be used for any purpose the legislature chooses. The state has no incentive to limit the amount of lottery appropriations, which are often a tempting source of funding in times of fiscal stress.

Lotteries enjoy broad popular support and have been a major source of income for state governments in an anti-tax era. But they are controversial in other ways: critics charge that they promote addictive gambling behavior and impose a large regressive tax on lower-income groups. They also draw criticism for their failure to reduce crime or other social problems. In addition, lotteries are criticized for promoting an image of state government as a patronizing and incompetent bureaucracy.

Some states, like New Jersey, have established hotlines for problem gamblers. Others have enacted legislation to prevent the sale of tickets to minors. And a few have garnished winnings to collect debts, including unpaid child support and taxes.