The Evolution of the Lottery

In America today, lottery is an enormous business that contributes billions of dollars each year to state coffers. Many people play the lottery regularly, and for a variety of reasons. Some believe they are a form of entertainment, while others view it as a way to improve their lives. Whatever the motivation, winning a jackpot is a long shot, and the odds of doing so are daunting.

Lottery revenues typically expand dramatically after a lottery’s introduction and then level off or even decline. To avoid a drop in income, a state government agency or public corporation that runs the lottery tries to maintain or increase its revenues by introducing new games. Initially, these games often focus on relatively simple games, such as scratch-off tickets or bingo.

The evolution of state lotteries illustrates an essential dynamic of public policy making: public officials are typically unable to make a holistic decision regarding the lottery and instead must deal with it piecemeal, with each new initiative influencing the subsequent one. In this case, the initial decision to establish a lottery has resulted in the creation of a monopoly for which public officials must constantly innovate.

Originally, advocates of legalizing the lottery promoted it as a way to finance a broad range of state services, arguing that voters could choose which line items the money would support. But as lottery revenues began to stagnate, they shifted their strategy and began to argue that a lottery would fund only a single item in the state budget – a popular service that was not partisan, such as education or aid for veterans. This approach made it easier for supporters to sell the lottery to the general public.