The Popularity of Lottery Advertising


A lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize state or national lotteries. In the United States, people spend over $80 billion per year on lottery tickets. This money could be better spent on building an emergency fund or paying off credit card debt.

In addition to the obvious addiction potential, lotteries encourage gambling-related social problems such as covetousness and an unrealistic focus on money. In the Bible, God teaches us that money and the things it can buy are temporal and fleeting (see Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). Moreover, lotteries promote gambling as an easy way to get rich quickly. People are lured into playing the lottery with promises that they will solve their financial problems with a big win. But the biblical truth is that wealth must be earned honestly through hard work (see Proverbs 10:4).

Most lottery advertisements are dishonest, either by presenting misleading odds, inflating the value of the money won (lottery jackpots are often paid in equal annual installments over 20 years, with inflation dramatically eroding the actual current value), or both. They also encourage irrational behavior such as purchasing more tickets than one’s budget allows.

Despite these risks, most state lotteries succeed in winning broad public approval and support. This is due in part to the fact that lotteries are promoted as helping a specific public good, such as education. Studies have shown that the popularity of a lottery does not depend on a state’s objective fiscal condition, and that lotteries can attract substantial public support even during times of economic stress.

The way in which lotteries are run is another factor that influences their popular appeal. Most state lotteries are staffed by government officials who are subject to the same pressures to maximize revenues as any private business. As a result, they tend to make policy decisions piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview. Lottery officials become dependent on revenues and develop extensive constituencies such as convenience store owners, lottery suppliers (whose contributions to state political campaigns are widely reported), teachers (in states in which lottery proceeds are earmarked for education), and so on.

Lottery advertising is designed to appeal to the emotions of potential players, promoting the idea that they can change their lives for the better with a single ticket. Although some people do improve their lifestyles with the money they win in a lottery, it is important to understand that most of these gains are only temporary. The true long-term benefits are the entertainment and other non-monetary values derived from playing the lottery. Unless these gains are significant enough, the disutility of monetary loss will usually outweigh the utility gained from playing the lottery. For some, these gains may not be worth the risk. For others, however, they may be.