Do State-Run Lotteries Prevent Crime?
February 25, 2008
Proponents of state-run lotteries frequently argue that if lotteries are to be legal, they must be run by the state to prevent or decrease lottery-related crime. There are several problems with this argument.
First, government involvement in gambling has the potential to increase certain types of crime, notably bribery. In the nineteenth century, members of the Louisiana legislature accepted bribes from a private company in exchange for a 25-year charter naming the company the sole proprietor of the lottery. While modern state lotteries have, in general, been run honestly, there are some notable exceptions, such as the lottery employee in Pennsylvania who injected some of the ping-pong balls used during a drawing with fluid to make them heavier and less likely to be drawn.
Second, when states rely so heavily on lottery revenue to fill coffers, the government has a vested interest in citizens’ gambling, not much different from a private casino’s interest in attracting new players to the blackjack table. In fact, one could argue that the heavy marketing that accompanies many state-run lotteries increases the risk of compulsive gambling.
Third, lotteries—and other types of gambling—will exist regardless of whether they are legal. Illegal lotteries, known in some parts of the country as “numbers” or “policy,” have not disappeared, even with the re-introduction of government-run lotteries in the 20th century. (Since it is difficult to measure the incidence of an illegal activity, it’s hard to say to what extent state-run lotteries have rid states of illegal lotteries.) Whether a potentially dangerous activity occurs illegally and clandestinely or is provided and marketed by the state, either way there will be a certain degree of crime, financial loss, and health hazards.
Let’s take a look at some anecdotal evidence from the pages of Lottery Post. In the past four months alone, the following headlines appeared on the Lottery Post website. Have state-run lotteries abolished lottery-related crime or reduced it to the point where it’s no longer a problem? You be the judge.
- Contractors steal $70,000 in lottery prize money
D.C. officials were told last year that lax enforcement of security procedures made it possible for a handful of contract employees to steal tens of thousands of dollars in lottery tickets and prize money, according to records released this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board.
- Tennessee couple accused of stealing thousands of lottery tickets
A Maryville, Tennessee, couple is out on bond after being accused of stealing thousands of lottery tickets.
- Worker accused of stealing winning Oregon lottery ticket
An investigation by Oregon State Police Lottery Security Section detectives has led to the arrest of a Springfield man who allegedly stole a winning $50,000 scratch-it ticket from the victim at a Springfield restaurant.
- Pair arrested for stealing lottery tickets for 3 years
A clerk at Local Yokel food mart has been arrested for stealing Florida Lottery scratch-off tickets and raking in $187,000 in winnings.
- Killer of lottery winner convicted
A Toronto-area doctor was convicted of poisoning his 66-year-old wife for squandering $5 million she won in a Canadian lottery, Toronto media reported.
- Police break up suspected lottery ticket theft ring
In Washington state, police have arrested three people on suspicion of stealing lottery scratch tickets from stores all over King and Snohomish counties, then cashing them in at other stores.
- Man arrested after snatching lottery tickets from player
A California man is in jail after he robbed a woman of her lottery tickets and later fled from officers, police said.
- And, in the too-bizarre-to-be-true category, we have this 2005 headline from China: Chinese man jailed for selling newborn to buy lottery tickets.
When we refute the flimsy crime- and addiction-prevention justifications for state-run lotteries, we’re left with only the claim that lotteries bring revenue into state coffers for worthy causes. For a refutation of this argument, see Gambling with Tax Policy: States’ Growing Reliance on Lottery Tax Revenue and the Lottery and Gambling Taxes section of our website.
Was this page helpful to you?
The Tax Foundation works hard to provide insightful tax policy analysis. Our work depends on support from members of the public like you. Would you consider contributing to our work?Contribute to the Tax Foundation
Let us know how we can better serve you!
We work hard to make our analysis as useful as possible. Would you consider telling us more about how we can do better?Give Us Feedback