The Real Story of Lottery

Despite the fact that many Americans cite religious or moral reasons for not playing, lottery is very much part of American culture, and it plays a vital role in our national economy. Some of our most famous landmarks, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Columbia University, were paid for in whole or in part by lottery funds. The game looms large in the popular imagination, with billboards and scratch-off tickets advertising huge jackpots in all corners of the country.

But the real story of lottery is more complex than that. In the United States, lotteries are a form of gambling, and their main function is to sell hope in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. And while people may have a fundamental inextricable urge to gamble, state lottery commissions use every trick in the book to get people hooked on the game: promoting it at times when people are most likely to spend money, making winning big more attractive than ever before, and designing products that will keep players coming back for more.

The first thing to understand about lottery is that it is a business, and the primary objective of any business is to maximize revenues. So, the way that lotteries are run and marketed is at cross-purposes with the public interest. In a typical lottery, a large percentage of ticket sales are used to cover organizing and promotional costs, and the remaining prizes — minus the percentage that goes to the state or sponsor — are distributed to the winners.