Lottery Advertising

A lottery is an arrangement whereby prizes are allocated by chance. The casting of lots has a long history, with biblical references and ancient Roman emperors using it to allocate land, slaves, and property. Lotteries began to be used in the modern sense of the term in the immediate post-World War II period, as a way for states to expand services without heavy taxes on middle and working class citizens.

State lotteries are a form of gambling, and as such must compete with other gambling businesses for consumer dollars. To attract gamblers, lotteries must promote their products, and they do this primarily by advertising. In the process, they must also convey certain messages to consumers:

First, that the lottery is a game of chance and that the chances of winning are one in millions. Second, that the lottery is a good thing because it raises money for the state. These two messages are in tension. The first message plays on the inextricable human impulse to gamble, and it is hard to compete with that. The latter message, however, may not be so persuasive.

In addition, critics charge that much lottery advertising is deceptive. For example, it often inflates the prize money, and in some cases – particularly in countries that pay winnings in annual installments rather than a lump sum – it fails to take into account inflation and income taxes, which dramatically erode the current value of the prize.