State Influence on The Lottery Gambling in The US

In the late 1980’s, the federal government became directly involved in the area of Native American gambling. Here, federal involvement was an outgrowth of the federal government’s responsibility for, and legislative authority over Native American reservations, and that direct involvement continues to the present. 11

In the modern era, lotteries have been the unique province of state governments. To date, each state that has authorized a lottery has granted itself a monopoly; none has seen fit to allow competitors. In part, the impetus behind this exclusivity is to ensure that the state can capture monopoly profits. But an important additional motive, especially at the dawn of the modern era of lotteries in the 1960’s and 1970’s, was the assumption that only direct government ownership and control of gambling could guarantee the exclusion of criminal elements. That concern has faded over time with the growth of commercial gambling, but it reappears in states taking up the issue for the first time.

With only minor variations, states with lotteries have implemented remarkably similar regulatory structures. Some are organized as arms of a particular state agency, others exist as separate organizations, with varying degrees of independence. 12 But regardless of their administrative form, all state lotteries share a common subordination to elected state officials, with the responsibility for the form, goals, and operations of lotteries firmly in the hands of the latter. But this arrangement has created a number of problems of its own.

For example, lottery directors are under constant pressure from state political authorities to at least maintain the level of revenues and, if possible, to increase them. Some observers have alleged that, as a result, considerations of public welfare at best take second place. This has often been cast as an inherent conflict of interest: How can a state government ensure that its pursuit of revenues does not conflict with its responsibility to protect the public? For some, state governments have exceeded their stated objective of using the lottery to modestly enhance public services, and instead have irresponsibly intruded gambling into society on a massive scale through such measures as incessant advertising and the ubiquitous placement of lottery machines in neighborhood stores. In this view, states have become active agents for the expansion of gambling, setting the stage for the introduction of commercial gambling in all its forms. The question arises: Is this a proper function of government?

Particular attention has been devoted to the extent to which, in pursuit of enhanced revenues, lotteries have allegedly targeted vulnerable populations, such as the economically disadvantaged and possible pathological gamblers. The data suggests that lottery play is heaviest among economically disadvantaged populations and among some ethnic groups, such as African-Americans, but it is not clear that these have been deliberately targeted by lottery officials.

With the lottery being such a widely available form of gambling, one area of concern is play by minors. Although illegal in every state, the sale of lottery tickets to minors nevertheless occurs with a disturbing frequency. For example, one survey in Minnesota of 15-to 18-year-olds found that 27 percent had purchased lottery tickets. 13 Even higher levels of 32 percent, 34 percent, and 35 percent were recorded in Louisiana, Texas, and Connecticut, respectively. 14 In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other states, lottery tickets are available to the general public through self-service vending machines, often with no supervision regarding who purchases them.

11 See the Chapter 6, on “Native American Tribal Gambling” for a full discussion of the IGRA and the classes of gambling. 12 Clotfelter and Cook, supra note 2 at 12. 13 Robyn Gearey, “The Numbers Game,” The New Republic, May 19, 1997, p. 19. 14 Joe Gyan, Jr. “More Louisiana Youths Try Gambling than Drugs,” [Baton Rouge, La.] Advocate, August 8, 1997; Lynn S. Wallisch, “Gambling in Texas: 1995 surveys of Adult and Adolescent Gambling Behavior,” Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, August 1996, p. 78; Lyn Bixby, “Lottery Pitch See as Luring Kids,” Hartford Courant, October 23, 1997, p. A4. 4