Lottery Moral Issues

A lottery is a game in which you pay for a chance to win a prize. The prize could be money, property or goods. You can buy a ticket for a lottery at retail outlets, by mail or over the internet. Federal law prohibits lottery promotions via email or by phone.

State lotteries are a popular source of funding for government, and the growth in lottery revenues has prompted the introduction of new games such as keno and video poker. Yet the popularity of these games has also brought up a number of moral issues. Supporters of state lotteries argue that they are a better alternative to raising taxes, since citizens can choose whether to play and thus contribute to government spending. But this argument glosses over a fundamental difference between taxation and lotteries: whereas income, property, and sales taxes are compulsory, the purchase of lottery tickets is voluntary. As a result, fewer people pay these “voluntary” taxes than would be the case with a corresponding mandatory tax, and state governments end up with less revenue from them.

A second moral issue is that the poor participate in state lotteries disproportionately less than they should, which amounts to a form of regressive taxation. This is because the vast majority of lottery players come from middle-income neighborhoods, and far fewer from high-income neighborhoods. Finally, there are some serious logical problems with the operation of lottery games. For example, there is no way to increase your odds of winning by playing more frequently or by buying more tickets. Purchasing more tickets actually decreases your chances of winning because each individual ticket has independent probability that does not vary with the frequency or number of tickets purchased.