The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among people who buy chances, called tickets. A ticket may have a fixed amount of cash, free entries into future drawings or some other value-added feature. Lotteries are most often run by state governments, although several multistate games, including Mega Millions and Powerball, exist. State lotteries are regulated by law and must comply with federal regulations on advertising, prizes and other aspects of the game.

In addition to legal and regulatory requirements, lotteries must also meet certain standards if they want to be credible. One of those is that they must be unbiased. For example, in New Jersey, officials have said that their lottery would attract a broad cross section of players without favoring any one race or income level. But a recent article in the magazine Businessweek, by Michael Estes, suggested otherwise. The story revealed that anyone who knew enough about the lottery could beat it by buying a huge number of tickets.

The article was a major embarrassment to officials, who quickly changed the way they defended their lottery. Instead of insisting that a lottery would float all a state’s budgetary needs, they began to argue that it would help pay for a single line item, invariably some kind of popular and nonpartisan government service like education or public parks or aid for veterans. This approach was more politically palatable, since it did not imply that a vote for the lottery was a vote in favor of gambling.