The Problems With Lottery Advertising

In the past, lotteries were a popular way for aristocrats to give away land and other possessions. Nero, for example, used a game called the apophoreta at his Saturnalian feasts to distribute property and slaves among guests. Lotteries are also traceable to biblical times, when the Israelites were instructed to divide land by lot. The first recorded lotteries to sell tickets with prizes of money were probably conducted in the Low Countries in the 15th century, and town records from Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges show that they may have been even older.

Currently, 37 states have state-run lotteries. While the introduction of the lottery has been hailed as a successful public policy tool, there are some serious issues that have emerged over time. For one, the money raised from lottery games can be regressive, meaning that it benefits higher-income people more than lower-income people.

In addition, the regressive nature of lotteries is amplified when it comes to scratch-off tickets, which are more popular in poor communities. Scratch-off games account for between 60 to 65 percent of total lottery sales, but are only about 15 percent of total state revenues. Lottery advertising has been accused of being deceptive in a number of ways, including presenting misleading odds; inflating the value of winnings (lotto jackpots are usually paid in equal annual installments over 20 years, and inflation and taxes quickly erode their current value); and claiming that lottery revenue supports public services like education.