The Ethics of Lottery

Lottery is a form of gambling that awards prize money to participants based on the casting of lots. The casting of lots has a long history in human society, including several instances in the Bible and other ancient texts. In modern times, lottery games have become an important source of revenue for many states and other entities around the world. Whether they are promoted as an aid to the poor or simply seen as a way for people to spend their disposable income, lotteries raise some serious ethical questions.

Ultimately, the decision to buy a lottery ticket is an individual choice that depends on both the entertainment value and the chance of winning the jackpot. If the expected utility of a monetary win is high enough, the disutility of losing can be outweighed, and the purchase of a ticket is a rational decision for an individual.

However, lottery advertising is frequently criticized for presenting misleading information about the odds of winning (the chances of a number appearing on a given ticket vary between games and between draws) and inflating the actual value of a prize won (lotto jackpot prizes are typically paid out in equal annual installments over 20 years, with inflation dramatically eroding the current value). In addition, critics charge that state-sponsored lotteries tend to develop extensive specific constituencies that include convenience store operators; suppliers (who make heavy contributions to state political campaigns); teachers (in states where the majority of lottery revenues are earmarked for education); and state legislators.