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Public Education and the Lottery


In 2021, Americans spent upwards of $100 billion on lottery games, making it the country’s most popular form of gambling. State governments promote these games, arguing that the revenues they generate help “save the children.” But how meaningful that revenue is to state budgets, and whether it’s worth the trade-off of people losing money, is up for debate.

A lottery is a system for distributing prizes, especially money or goods, by chance. Prizes may be fixed, or they may depend on the number of tickets sold (50-50 lotteries). In either case, the prize fund is usually deducted from ticket sales before profit and other expenses, so the total value of the prizes is less than the amount collected from ticket purchases.

The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lotte, meaning “fate.” The first European lotteries were organized to raise funds for public charitable uses and were hailed as a painless alternative to taxes. The term “lottery” also can refer to any event or process whose outcome appears to be determined by chance, such as a game of chance or a sporting event.

While many people consider a lottery to be a form of gambling, the truth is that there are no guarantees of winning. In the vast majority of cases, the winner is the one who purchased a ticket that matched the most numbers or symbols on a specific drawing. In fact, even the most experienced lottery players know that there is a very small chance of winning.

Lottery proceeds are used to support public education, including elementary and secondary schools and community colleges. The amounts awarded to each school district are based on average daily attendance, full-time enrollment for higher education and other factors.

In addition to supporting public education, the New York State Lottery supports economic development through investments in technology, infrastructure and innovation. Since 1998, more than $5 billion has been awarded to projects across the state. The NYS Lottery has also contributed more than $1 billion to local governments through the purchase of zero-coupon bonds.

The New York State Lottery is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, and proceeds from the sale of tickets are distributed to the participating public education institutions. The State Controller’s Office determines how much Lottery funding is dispersed to each county based on Average Daily Attendance and full-time enrollment. Click or tap a county on the map to see its contribution. All contributions are subject to federal limits and other legal requirements. For more information, visit the State Controller’s website. You must be 18 years of age or older to play the Lottery. You must have a valid ID to buy a ticket. You must be a resident of the state where you are purchasing your ticket in order to participate. You must also comply with all other state, federal and Lottery regulations. If you have questions about a specific transaction or questionable activity, please contact the New York State Lottery Customer Service Department at 1-888-LOTO-4-NYS (468-5679).

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