Economic Analysis of State Lotteries in the United States

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Modern lotteries in the United States are run exclusively by state governments. In many cases, states establish separate lottery agencies to administer and promote the games. One statutory duty of many lottery agencies is to maximize the net revenue of the games, hence, all agencies engage in advertising. There is however constant pressure from state legislatures to reduce advertising budgets because of the concerns about the efficacy of advertising in increasing sales, as well as the distaste for the state government's promotion of lottery. Existing literature suggests that the marginal effectiveness of advertising decreases as the quantity of advertising increases. To provide empirical evidence on whether an additional advertising dollar increases lottery sales, we examine quasi-experiments in three states (Illinois, Washington, and Massachusetts) where advertising budgets of state lotteries were exogenously curtailed by the state legislature. We find that the elasticity of advertising is 0.07-0.16, suggesting that a one-dollar decrease in advertising spending could cost the state government $9-10 of the net revenue at the margin. Contrary to the belief of some legislatures that state lotteries spend too much on advertising, our results suggest that they may advertise too little in terms of maximizing the profit.

Out of the thirty-eight states with lotteries, sixteen earmark lottery profits for primary and secondary education. Given the fungibility of money, economists have questioned the effectiveness of the earmarking policies. Using a panel data set of states with lotteries, we find that 60-80 cents out of an earmarked dollar is spent on public education. In contrast, each dollar of lottery profit increases school spending by about 50 cents in states that deposit profits into the general fund, and by only 30 cents in states that earmark profits for areas other than education. Using a Bayesian estimation procedure for inequality restrictions in the normal linear least squares model, we find there is a high likelihood that a dollar of earmarked lottery profits generates less than a dollar of spending on K-12 education, but more than the spending generated from a dollar of lottery profits put into the general fund.