Lottery Commissions

The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights has a long history in human societies. But lotteries in the modern sense, a competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold to raise money, were first established in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Since then, they have spread worldwide and become a major source of funding for public works projects, towns, universities, and charities.

Lottery commissions, the entities that run lotteries, face a variety of challenges and criticism. They must be aware of a variety of social problems, including the tendency of people to make irrational gambling decisions and of the regressive impact of lottery revenues on lower-income communities. But they also must be careful not to vilify those who play the lottery. They need to understand that for many people, winning the lottery is the only way they can afford a new car, pay their mortgage, or pay for their children’s education.

In the United States, all state lotteries are legal monopolies whose profits are used to fund government programs. They are generally popular with the general public, but also have extensive specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (lottery revenue is an important sales generator for them), lottery suppliers (who often contribute heavily to political campaigns), teachers (in states in which lotteries generate substantial funds for education), and state legislators (who get accustomed to the extra money). They also tend to attract a large number of lottery players, who can be divided into several subgroups based on their socio-economic characteristics: men play more than women; whites play more than blacks or Hispanics; and older people play less than those in middle age.