The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a system of gambling organized by the government to raise money for public service. Its defenders have often dismissed ethical objections by arguing that if people are going to gamble anyway, the state might as well pocket some of the profits. Their argument has limited validity, Cohen argues, but it did help to give moral cover to politicians looking for ways to fund their programs without enraging an increasingly tax-averse public.

A key element of any lottery is a system for pooling tickets and their counterfoils that have been purchased as stakes in the game, and for determining winners by random selection from this collection. Normally, the cost of organizing and promoting the lottery (or the proceeds of the sponsorship) are deducted from this pool, as are a percentage of the prize funds. Whether to offer a few large prizes or many smaller ones is another crucial design decision.

While there is no national lottery organization, state lotteries are usually members of consortiums that enable them to jointly organize games spanning larger geographic footprints and thus carrying much larger jackpots. Individual lotteries also often offer instant tickets, scratch cards, and keno. They may also sell a small number of slot machines, and some offer video lottery terminals. All of these activities are regulated by state laws and regulations. The commission’s regulations specify that an employee of the commission or a member of its immediate family must not have a financial interest in a lottery retailer.