Lottery Advertising and Promotion

Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers or symbols are drawn to determine the winners of a prize. The prize money may be a cash sum, goods or services, or an automobile. Many states and other organizations hold lotteries to raise money for a wide range of public usages. Historically, lotteries have been popular and often hailed as a “painless form of taxation.” State governments typically legislate a monopoly for themselves; establish a government agency or public corporation to run the lottery; and begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. Over time, they progressively expand the lottery in size and complexity, especially by adding new games.

Most modern lotteries involve a computer system for recording bets and for shuffling and comparing tickets before drawing the winnings. In addition, some type of randomizing procedure is used to ensure that chance and only chance determines the selection of winners. Traditionally, such procedures involved shaking or tossing the tickets, but computers are increasingly used.

In general, a lottery is operated as a business, and the emphasis on marketing, advertising and promotion is designed to maximize revenues. Some of the marketing messages that are conveyed to the public are:

One central argument that is used to promote a lottery is that it helps support a specific public good such as education. This is a key factor in winning initial and sustained public approval for the lottery, particularly when the state’s fiscal condition is bad. However, studies have shown that lotteries do not appear to be responsive to the objective fiscal circumstances of a state, and the popularity of a lottery is largely independent of its financial health.

Moreover, the nature of the business that lottery officials are running is such that the public’s welfare and other public policy considerations are not taken into account in a consistent manner. Lottery officials make decisions on a piecemeal basis and are heavily dependent on the evolving industry, with the result that the overall public welfare is only intermittently reflected in lottery policy decisions.

For example, the advertising for a particular lottery is largely focused on its jackpot prize, while ignoring the fact that there are significant differences in lottery play by socio-economic groups and other demographic characteristics. For instance, men play more often than women; blacks and Hispanics more frequently than whites; and young people play less than those in middle age or older. In addition, people from lower income groups tend to gamble more than those from higher-income levels. These are all factors that must be taken into account in the development of lottery policies.