Funding Public Goods Through the Lottery


A lottery is a game where participants pay a small sum of money for a chance to win a large amount. Lotteries can be addictive and are often criticized for being an unsavory form of gambling. However, they can also be used to fund public goods and services.

The odds of winning the lottery are incredibly low, but many people buy tickets each week and contribute billions to government coffers that could be better spent on other things, such as retirement or college tuition. Moreover, buying a ticket is an investment in the time value of money: each additional dollar spent increases the likelihood that the prize will be won, which decreases the overall utility.

Super-sized jackpots generate tremendous excitement and attract attention from news media, which in turn increase sales and participation. However, the size of a jackpot is limited by the number of tickets sold. Moreover, the total pool of prizes must be deducted for commissions to lottery retailers and other costs; the remainder is typically allocated as profits or revenues to the state or sponsor, with some percentage going to winners.

During the eighteenth century, colonial America relied heavily on lotteries to raise money for both private and public ventures, including roads, canals, libraries, churches, colleges, and schools. The popularity of the lottery was widespread, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling. During the French and Indian War, lotteries raised money for fortifications and local militias. In addition, many private citizens financed their expeditions to the West through lotteries.