Lottery Advertising and Public Welfare Goals

Lottery is a form of gambling wherein players purchase tickets and hope to win a prize by matching a random series of numbers or symbols. It is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the world and raises billions each year. It is particularly popular in the United States, where state governments run a number of lotteries that provide funds for education, public works, and other projects. While lottery participation is widespread, it can also be addictive and cause financial distress for some people.

Despite the low odds of winning, lottery advertising has largely focused on two messages, Van Boven says: “one is the idea that playing the lottery is fun, and the other is that it can be used to fund other things.” These messages are designed to appeal to people’s psychological motivations. For example, counterfactual thoughts—imaginations of what would have happened if they had made different choices—can drive people to play the lottery more often than is rational. In addition, people tend to overestimate small probabilities and overweight them, she adds.

While promoting the lottery may be politically expedient for some politicians, it runs counter to public welfare goals. State governments benefit from the sale of these tickets but do not have to spend much time and effort enforcing policies that limit gambling or addressing its effects on people’s lives, Van Boven says. Instead, those officials are tasked with generating the highest possible revenues, which can easily be at cross-purposes with the larger public interest.