Lottery Commissions Need to Be Honest About Their Odds of Winning

There is nothing inherently wrong with state lotteries result macau, which raise money for state purposes and offer the chance to win a big prize. But if they want to attract more people and keep them playing, lottery commissions should be more honest about the odds of winning and their regressive impact on lower-income groups. They also need to stop trying to turn the lottery into a meritocratic juggernaut that will make everyone rich.

Whether they realize it or not, lottery officials are using the same strategies that marketers of addictive products use to keep players coming back for more: they advertise high jackpots and low odds; they promote their games in neighborhoods where incomes are lowest; they encourage impulse buying by giving people multiple chances to buy tickets at a check-cashing store, convenience store, or gas station; and they design their games to recur over time, with jackpots growing as the number of participating states grows. All of this isn’t especially new: we know from decades of studying commercial products like cigarettes and video games that the psychological tactics work. But we don’t normally see state government doing them.

The modern lottery was born in the nineteen-sixties, when America’s prosperity ended abruptly with the rise of inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War. State governments found themselves with no way to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were wildly unpopular with voters. That’s when the first lotteries appeared, in northeastern states with bigger social safety nets that could stand to lose a little money to get things back on track.

Lotteries started small, with a modest array of relatively simple games. As the money collected by them increased, they expanded, adding more games and higher stakes, until they reached their current size. In their expansion, the commissions created a lot of mythology about their popularity, including the idea that everyone likes to gamble and that it’s good for society to fund public gambling.

But the real reason people play is that, as a form of consumption, it’s fun and can provide a sense of excitement that’s often missing from their lives. It’s also a way to buy hope, particularly in an age of inequality and limited social mobility where winning the lottery could change everything.

Despite the odds, there is no shortage of people who do win the lottery, which explains why the ads are so relentless and why many of us can’t resist the pull. But those who know better should be speaking out. They shouldn’t just point out the odds of winning are incredibly slim—they should be warning that winning is far more likely to hurt than help. This is an example of what happens when we make policy piecemeal rather than through a broad, all-encompassing framework: it’s often the case that once something is established, its evolution and effects are left mostly up to the market. Changing this requires a major overhaul of public policies.