The Truth About Lottery Advertising
Lotteries are a big business and an important source of public funds. But they’re also a form of gambling, where payment of some kind—often money—is exchanged for a chance to win something else. They’re legal under federal law, but the same can’t be said for state laws.
While some people play the lottery just for fun, others have more serious motives. For example, some believe that winning the lottery will give them enough money to quit their jobs and live a happier life. This is why experts warn against making drastic changes after winning the lottery. But despite the risks, the lottery continues to grow in popularity. In the United States alone, lottery players spend billions of dollars each year.
The concept of a lottery is as ancient as human civilization itself. Its roots can be traced back to the casting of lots for everything from kingship and military conscription to the selection of jury members. In the modern era, lottery games are most commonly organized by states as a means of raising money for public works projects and other services. This is why it’s hard to find a state that does not have some sort of lottery.
In early America, lotteries were a popular way of funding the colonization of England’s American colonies and eventually spread across the country, despite strict Protestant proscriptions against gambling. In the 18th century, they helped finance everything from paving streets to building wharves and even Harvard and Yale. The Continental Congress even sponsored a lottery to raise money for the Revolutionary War.
However, as Cohen argues, the modern lottery really took off in the nineteen-sixties when budget crisis struck and states had to come up with new sources of revenue without enraging an anti-tax electorate. In fact, the first state to introduce a modern lottery was New Hampshire, and it inspired 13 more in quick succession, most of them in the Northeast and Rust Belt.
Today, lottery advertising focuses on two messages. The first is to promote the game itself and its prize, which is often a massive jackpot. This is a good thing, as a large jackpot attracts attention from news outlets and social media, driving ticket sales. But the second message is more problematic, and it’s the reason some people object to lottery marketing: It’s basically an advertisement for gambling.
Unlike other forms of gambling, which involve the exchange of property for a chance to win a prize, lottery prizes are free. This is why some people call it “non-gambling gambling.” In the end, though, the promotion of lotteries as a form of non-gambling gambling is a problem because it can still have negative consequences for the poor and people with gambling problems. In addition, it seems to run at cross-purposes with the state’s general interest. It is, after all, the government’s job to protect its citizens. Whether that involves regulating gambling or not, it should at least be able to control its advertising and marketing.