Lottery Advertising

Many Americans play the lottery, contributing billions to state coffers annually. Some people play because they simply like gambling; others believe that the lottery is their answer to a better life, despite the fact that they will not win. But there is more going on here than just an inextricable human urge to gamble. Lottery advertisements dangle the promise of instant riches in an era of inequality and limited social mobility, obscuring the regressivity of lottery games and promoting them as fun experiences that aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

In the United States, most state governments sponsor a lottery. The six that don’t (Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Utah along with Nevada, home to Las Vegas) are missing out on a significant source of “painless” revenue—money that comes from players voluntarily spending their own money on tickets rather than being taxed by government officials.

The lottery’s appeal is obvious to state politicians. They see it as a way to raise money for a wide range of programs without increasing taxes—and even more importantly, without annoying voters who may already feel overtaxed.

Lottery advertising promotes this message, associating the games with sports and celebrities while highlighting big jackpots. They also encourage players to buy multiple tickets and use a computer-generated selection system, which they claim increases their chances of winning. But this type of betting is not statistically sound, and if you look at the results from previous draws, it’s clear that you’re much more likely to have an improbable number than to have a lucky one.

Posted in: Gambling