Main Aspects of Lottery Advertising

One particularly troublesome component of lottery advertising is that much of it is misleading, even deceptive. State lotteries are exempt from the Federal Trade Commissions’ truth-in-advertising standards because they are state entities and, in terms of their advertising, can in fact operate in a manner that true commercial businesses cannot. 73 While the Federal Trade Commission requires statements about probability of winning in commercial sweepstakes games, there is no such federal requirement for lotteries. Lottery advertising rarely explains the poor odds of winning. Many advertisements imply that the odds of winning are even “better than you might think.” For example, one video presented to the Commission stated that “chances are good you can be $10,000 richer”. An ad aired in Texas compared the odds of winning the lottery to the odds of some everyday events, implying that winning the lottery is possible, perhaps even probable. 74

In addition to being misleading, lottery advertising messages often exploit themes that conflict with the state’s role as protector of the public good. For example, many advertisements emphasize luck over hard work, instant gratification over prudent investment, and entertainment over savings. New York’s “All you need is a dollar and a dream” ad campaign was particularly emblematic of the theme that lotteries provide an avenue to financial success. The idea that the lottery is an investment in your future is particularly troublesome when targeted toward populations that are least able to afford to play.

73 Ellen Perlman, “Lotto’s Little Luxuries,” Governing, December 1996, p. 18. 74 Testimony of Philip Cook, before the NGISC, March 18, 1999, Washington, DC.