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The Lottery is a Business and Needs to Maximize Revenues

Once a state adopts a lottery, the debate and criticism shift away from the general desirability of the concept to features of its operations—the problem of compulsive gambling; its alleged regressive impact on poorer citizens; its use as an alternative to raising taxes. These concerns are legitimate, but they tend to miss the point. Lottery is a business and, like other businesses, it needs to maximize revenues in order to thrive. In a highly competitive environment, that requires focusing on a limited number of target groups—the kind of people most likely to purchase tickets—and promoting those particular products.

The first modern state-run lottery in the United States began in New Hampshire in 1964. Inspired by the success of this lottery, a dozen more states introduced lotteries in the next decade. Lotteries have since become a staple of state government, and most operate on the same basic principles: a state legislature creates a monopoly for itself; a public corporation or agency runs the lottery (as opposed to licensing private firms in return for a share of profits); the lottery begins with modest games and a small budget; and it progressively expands its product offering in response to pressures to increase revenues.

The popularity of the lottery in the 1980s could be attributed to widening economic inequality and a new materialism that asserted anyone could become rich with enough effort. In addition, anti-tax movements were causing lawmakers to seek alternatives to raising taxes.