Is it Wise for Governments to Promote Gambling?

The Powerball jackpot, one of the largest in US history, has been won. The winning ticket was sold at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, California. The winner’s name hasn’t been announced yet. Officials say it’s still too early to know how the winner will spend their prize money.

Lotteries are a huge industry in the United States, and they’re also a huge part of state budgets. But there’s a big question about whether it’s wise for governments to be in the business of promoting gambling—particularly when gambling makes up such a small share of overall state revenue.

A state-run lottery is a form of gambling in which participants purchase chances to win prizes through random selection. In modern times, it is often combined with a commercial promotion or with military conscription. It can even be used for the selection of jurors or public officials.

In the past, states have defended their lottery games by arguing that they’re a good way to raise money for education or other state services without raising taxes on poor people. But that logic doesn’t hold up when you look at the numbers. State lotteries actually reduce government efficiency by shifting wealth from poorer households to the wealthy.

And that’s not the only reason to be suspicious of state-sponsored gambling. There are also concerns that lottery revenues are being used to subsidize gambling addictions. Ultimately, the real issue isn’t about whether people should gamble; it’s about how much money they should be spending on it.