The Limits of the Lottery Jackpot


A lottery is a gambling game where you pay to have a chance to win a prize, such as money. It’s also a common way for government to raise funds for things like roads and schools. The idea of a lottery has roots in ancient times: Moses was told to distribute land by lot, and Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by drawing lots. But the modern state-sponsored lotteries that began in New Hampshire in 1964 have a much more recent history.

The modern lottery has become a powerful source of revenue, raising tens of billions in the past 50 years. But the system is vulnerable to two basic problems. First, it is subject to a high level of corruption, especially in states with weak political checks and balances. And second, its success depends on a large and growing group of special interests that may have little in common with the general public: convenience store owners (lotteries are the largest vendors of their products); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers (lottery revenues are often earmarked for education); etc.

A super-sized jackpot attracts attention, and helps boost ticket sales. It also earns the game a windfall of free publicity on news websites and newscasts. This is a key factor behind the growing size of jackpots, which have been climbing to ever-increasing amounts. But there are limits on how far these jackpots can go, because the larger they get, the lower the chances of winning.