The Importance of Lottery Revenue for Public Services


A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random and prizes awarded to those who match all or part of the winning combination. Modern lotteries are typically games of chance and are operated by state governments or licensed promoters. They often raise large sums of money quickly, and are popular with the general public. However, lottery advocates argue that the proceeds from such games are not only painless (as compared to raising taxes) but also provide valuable revenue for public services.

The casting of lots for decisions and determinations of fate has a long history, including biblical instances such as the commandment to Moses to take a census of Israel and divide the land by lot, and Roman emperors who used the drawing of tickets as a form of entertainment during Saturnalian feasts. In modern times, lottery games have played an important role in many governmental arrangements such as military conscription, commercial promotions in which prizes are given away by a lottery, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters.

In the United States, the lottery is a widely used source of tax revenue for state government. Its popularity has been fuelled by the prevailing political dynamic: voters want the states to spend more, and politicians look at lotteries as an easy way to get tax money without increasing taxes on the general population. A significant share of the money raised by the lottery is dispersed to education. Its recipients are determined by county, and the State Controller’s Office apportions funds based on average daily attendance (ADA) for K–12 school districts and full-time enrollment for community colleges.