The New Lottery


The lottery is a popular method of raising money, and it has been used for a variety of purposes. Whether it is for a large cash prize, units in a subsidized housing block, or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school, the idea of winning the lottery has an attractive appeal. But the lottery is not without critics who say that it promotes addictive gambling behavior and imposes a major, regressive tax on low-income communities.

Most state lotteries are modeled after traditional raffles in which people buy tickets to win a prize in a drawing at some time in the future. In addition to generating enormous revenues, the games are often highly profitable for their promoters and offer fixed prizes that are independent of how many tickets are sold. In recent years, however, a new breed of lottery has emerged. These “instant games” are designed to raise lower amounts of money for a single prize, and they typically have much higher odds of winning than traditional lotteries.

These innovations have helped to attract a large new audience, especially among the poor. But these games have a serious problem: When the prize amounts are small, people don’t feel compelled to buy a ticket. Moreover, the supposedly positive message about state lotteries — that the money they raise is being put to good use in government services for everyone — has not been enough to sustain interest. In fact, lottery revenues tend to expand dramatically when they first come on the market and then level off or decline. This has led to a constant effort to introduce new games, such as video poker and keno, in an attempt to maintain or increase revenues.