Should Governments Promote Gambling?


The Lottery is a form of gambling that has been promoted by state governments to generate revenue for specific public purposes. As with any gambling activity, there are those who gamble compulsively and are at risk of addiction. There is also the question whether governments should be in the business of promoting a vice. State legislatures are now grappling with this question as they consider allowing casinos, sports betting and other forms of gambling.

Many states have adopted the lottery as a way to raise revenue and meet public spending needs without raising taxes or cutting programs that people depend on, including education, health care and social services. The question is whether lottery proceeds are being spent wisely. Historically, lottery revenues have expanded dramatically after they are introduced but then level off and decline over time, which has led to the introduction of new games in an attempt to keep revenue growth going.

Making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history in human society, with a number of examples appearing in the Bible. The first known public lotteries offering tickets for sale with prize money of varying value were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century, when towns raised funds to build walls and town fortifications.

Research has shown that lottery play correlates with a state’s economic well-being, but the popularity of lotteries is independent of the objective fiscal circumstances of a state government. Studies have also shown that lottery play is correlated with socio-economic status, with men playing more than women; blacks and Hispanics playing more than whites; the young and old playing less than those in the middle; and those from lower-income neighborhoods playing disproportionately less than those from upper-income neighborhoods.