Lottery Advertising Strategies


The lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people pay for a ticket and hope that their numbers match those randomly drawn by machines. It is also a popular way to raise money for public projects. Historically, lottery revenue has gone toward a variety of public works, including roads, canals, colleges, and churches. It has also been used to fund wars and to purchase slaves. The lottery has long been controversial, and its critics have come from all walks of life. Early America’s devout Protestants, for example, viewed government-sanctioned lotteries as morally unconscionable. But as the lottery gained popularity in the nineteenth century, critics focused on two issues: how much states stood to gain and whether or not winning a big prize was really that much more fun than playing bingo.

For many politicians confronting state budget crises in the nineteen-sixties, Cohen writes, the lottery seemed like a “budgetary miracle.” With no appetite for raising taxes or cutting services, they hoped that lotteries would bring in hundreds of millions and allow them to maintain current levels of service without voters ever knowing that they had raised their own taxes by a single penny.

Lottery sales rose as incomes fell, unemployment grew, and poverty rates rose. The resulting decline in the sense of economic security shattered Americans’ belief that hard work and education would guarantee them a better life than their parents’. As with all commercial products, lottery advertising is geared to keep the product fresh and appealing, and it is no different from the strategies employed by tobacco or video-game makers.

Even the richest of Americans still buy tickets, but they spend far less of their annual income on them than do poorer people; according to consumer financial company Bankrate, the wealthy play at about one percent of their total incomes while those making fifty thousand dollars or less spend thirteen percent of theirs on tickets. And as with all advertising, the most effective campaigns target the most susceptible groups. Lottery ads are especially resonant in neighborhoods where incomes are lower and the majority of inhabitants are Black or Latino.

Some states have tried to limit the power of the lottery by requiring winners to disclose their identities, but others haven’t. The influx of wealth from a lottery win is likely to drastically alter any winner’s lifestyle, and that change may be more than some people are prepared for. And while some of the most obvious ways in which a lottery winner can ruin his or her reputation and alienate friends, family members, and co-workers are to drink, drive, or gamble excessively, there are more subtle dangers that should not be overlooked. These include the resentment of co-workers and neighbors, the difficulty in maintaining friendships, and the dangers of self-destructive behavior. Those who have won large sums of money are often vulnerable to a kind of “euphoric blindness.” Fortunately, avoiding these pitfalls is not difficult if one knows what to look for.