The Evolution of the Lottery

Throughout history, the lottery has served as an important form of fundraising for public projects and institutions. It has also been a source of controversy. In addition to problems associated with compulsive gambling and alleged regressive effects on lower-income groups, the lottery can be perceived as running at cross purposes with the larger public interest.

The evolution of the lottery has demonstrated a consistent pattern: state legislatures authorize a lottery, establish a public agency to operate it, begin with a small number of relatively simple games, and expand its operations over time. The resulting lottery is often criticized on the basis of various features of its operation, but these criticisms are driven by the ongoing evolution of the industry rather than the policy decisions that were made in the establishment of the lottery.

Lottery Advertising

The principal argument in every state to promote the adoption of a lottery has focused on its value as a source of “painless” revenue: players voluntarily spending their money (as opposed to being taxed) for the benefit of the state. This dynamic has led to a strong emphasis on advertising, which focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the lottery.

Retailer Compensation

In most states, retailers receive a percentage of the proceeds from lottery ticket sales. In addition, some states offer incentive-based programs for retailers that meet certain sales criteria.


The total amount available for prizes in a lottery is generally the sum of the value of tickets plus the revenues and profits deducted from the pool. The balance between the frequency and size of large prizes and the demand for smaller prizes can be determined by a variety of factors, including the culture of potential bettors. The decision on how to balance these considerations is made by lottery officials.