Lottery Advertising Messages to Promote Gambling


Lotteries are a common way for governments to raise money, as they’re relatively easy to organize and popular with the public. But they have produced a second set of issues, related to the promotion of gambling and the exploitation of vulnerable populations, including poor people and problem gamblers. Because state lotteries are run as businesses, with the goal of maximizing revenues, their advertising necessarily focuses on persuading target groups to spend their hard-earned dollars on lottery tickets. This raises serious concerns, particularly in states where the majority of lottery funds are earmarked for social services.

In the United States, state lotteries have become a fixture of American society, with Americans spending billions on their tickets each year. They’re also one of the most popular forms of gambling, and despite the high winning odds, it’s not uncommon for those who do win to see their quality of life decline dramatically after they receive their prizes.

The history of state lotteries shows that they typically follow similar paths: a state legislature establishes a monopoly for itself (as opposed to licensing a private firm in exchange for a percentage of revenues); the state agency or public corporation runs the lottery; it begins operations with a modest number of simple games and, due to pressures for additional revenue, progressively expands its offerings with new games. This pattern has created the illusion that lottery proceeds are generated from random chance, but this is not true.

A large portion of lottery revenues comes from ticket sales, and most tickets have a specific prize amount that will be awarded if a player wins. The remaining revenues are then used to cover administrative costs and, in some cases, for promotional activities. The overall prize pool is then divvied up among a series of prizes, the largest being the jackpot. Most lotteries also offer a range of smaller prizes, often for a single-digit number and sometimes for a combination of numbers.

The lottery has proven to be a popular form of fundraising, generating revenues in excess of $20 billion for states and the federal government. However, there is a significant cost to society associated with this activity, especially in terms of the potential for addictive gambling. While many lottery participants are not addicted, a significant proportion of those who play are.

Lottery officials rely on two messages to promote their games. One is that the game is fun and the experience of scratching a ticket is rewarding. The other is that the proceeds benefit a specific public good, such as education. Studies show that these arguments do not rely on the state’s objective fiscal situation; indeed, they may even be more effective during times of financial stress, when the prospect of tax increases or cuts in other programs is more acute.

While these arguments have helped to keep lottery participation high, they have also obscured the regressivity of lottery gaming. As a result, state lotteries are at cross-purposes with the interests of many citizens.