Lottery – An Ethical Business?

Lottery is a form of gambling in which players pay for a ticket, mark numbers or symbols on the ticket to choose winning combinations, and then hope to win prizes that are determined by chance. It is a common form of gambling that involves a substantial risk and offers a relatively low probability of success, but that nevertheless attracts a significant percentage of the population.

The casting of lots for decisions and determinations of fate has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible, but the modern public lottery is a relatively recent invention. It began in New Hampshire in 1964 and has spawned many imitations. In the United States, lotteries are generally subsidized by state governments and sell tickets to general audiences as well as special constituencies such as convenience store owners (who must provide substantial sales outlets); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are frequently reported); teachers (in those states in which lottery revenues are earmarked for education); etc.

In addition to their promotional functions, state-sponsored lotteries are often run as businesses with a strong focus on revenue maximization and thus must devote considerable effort to persuading prospective customers to spend money on their games. While it is true that some people simply like to gamble, there is also the inconvenient truth that lotteries dangle the false promise of instant wealth in an age of inequality and limited social mobility. These facts raise serious questions about the ethical nature of a business that promotes gambling and, indeed, whether this is an appropriate function for government.