In the United States alone, people spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets every week. Some people see buying a ticket as a low-risk investment, while others believe they can use their winnings to achieve their life goals. Either way, many states rely on lottery profits to fund their budgets. But is it really fair to ask the public to subsidize gambling?
The vast majority of lottery revenue goes to winners, including jackpots and smaller prizes. A small percentage of the money goes to retailers who sell tickets. The rest of the funds support a variety of other costs, like advertising, staff salaries, legal fees, and ticket printing.
Some states allocate lottery profits to programs that benefit specific populations, such as education or senior services. Other states put the money into a general fund, claiming that it helps address budget shortfalls in areas they think are important to their citizens, such as roadwork and law enforcement.
It’s not clear how much of the state revenue is actually helping these priorities. For example, Ohio claims it spent $3.6 billion on educational programs in 2021, but that’s a fraction of the total state budget. And other states may have earmarked the money but later cut their regular budget appropriations for education.
While it’s possible that the lottery does help some citizens, there are also other ways for governments to raise revenue without exposing the population to the hazards of gambling addiction. For instance, some states have imposed “sin taxes” on things such as alcohol and tobacco in an attempt to discourage their consumption.