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Until recently, state-run lotteries were the only source of public funds for large infrastructure projects. Lotteries were once a popular way for states to expand their social safety nets without especially onerous taxes on the middle class and working class. They were also a way to promote the American dream and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
Modern lotteries rely on two messages primarily. They tell people playing the lottery is a game that’s fun and they should take it lightly. The problem with this is it obscures the regressive nature of the game and how much people are actually spending on it.
Moreover, it gives the false impression that lottery revenue is a significant chunk of a state’s budget. In reality, it’s a drop in the bucket. Lottery commissions have every incentive to convince voters and taxpayers of the good they are doing for their state, even though they raise a very small percentage of a state’s overall revenues. This has created a system that encourages gamblers to spend more of their income on tickets and exacerbates problems with gambling addiction. It’s not the only thing wrong with government-run lotteries, but it is one of the most important issues.