Does the Lottery Commission Make a Difference?

Lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people pay for the chance to win a prize by drawing numbers at random. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize a state lottery. The amount of money spent on tickets is huge—in 2021, Americans paid upwards of $100 billion to purchase them—and it’s a big source of state revenue. But it’s a big gamble, and winning isn’t necessarily the path to happiness.

Some people attempt to increase their odds of winning by picking numbers that correspond with significant dates (like birthdays) or ages, and many opt for quick picks in order to reduce the chances of sharing the prize with anyone else who has the same selection. But does it really make a difference?

A few states, including Colorado and Florida, have a public lottery that uses revenue from ticket sales to fund education and other initiatives. But most of the state-run lotteries are administered by private companies that run them on behalf of their respective states, and there is considerable variation in the level of oversight provided. In a 1998 study, the Council of State Governments found that, in general, lottery oversight is carried out by either a state lottery board or commission, an executive branch agency, or the attorney general’s office.

Some people are able to win big sums by playing the lottery, but the chances of doing so are slim. Lottery commissions promote the idea that it’s just a fun game, and the regressive nature of lottery play—where people from lower income groups tend to spend more money on tickets—is obscured.