Whenever you play the lottery, you are betting that you will be one of the few who wins the big jackpot. That’s a gamble and it is not something that should be considered a wise financial bet.

The state lotteries that were introduced throughout the country after New Hampshire established one in 1964 have generally followed a similar pattern. Each has established a monopoly for itself; created an agency or public corporation to run the lottery (instead of licensing a private firm in exchange for a portion of the profits); began operations with a modest number of relatively simple games and, due to constant pressure to generate more revenues, progressively expanded its offerings.

Lottery advertising typically focuses on two messages. The first is to emphasize that the money a player spends on a ticket can be used for some supposedly positive state purpose—education, roads, or a community center. The second message is to highlight the potential for an enormous windfall. Those enormous jackpots attract attention, boost sales, and fuel speculation about how much the top prize will grow to an apparently newsworthy amount at the next drawing.

When it comes to the state’s objective fiscal situation, however, the popularity of the lottery appears unrelated to the state government’s actual budgetary health. Studies have found that states can generate broad public support for a lottery in an anti-tax environment by convincing the public that the proceeds benefit a specific public good, such as education.

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