State Laws

State lotteries have become nearly ubiquitous as state government activity. Forty states permit lotteries. In virtually all states with lotteries, the stated purpose is to raise revenue. However, there is wide diversity in how the money raised is distributed. Most states (about 16) designate lottery profits for schools and education, about thirteen states distribute profit to the general fund, or a fund for economic development, such as highway construction, in support of stadium authorities. A few states designate lottery revenues to fund various general environmental activities.

Many states apply the revenues to more than one purpose. A few states are quite unique. For example, Pennsylvania uses its revenue for programs designed to help the elderly with rent rebates and property tax assistance. Massachusetts uses its revenue in support of the arts. Maryland and Washington use substantial portions of their lottery revenue to raise money for sports stadium construction and operation.

A number of states have enacted provisions designed to help problem gamblers. Louisiana, for example, requires all lottery tickets to be printed with a toll-free gambler’s assistance hotline phone number. At least four other states also have various provisions designed to assist problem gamblers.

One interesting provision in many state lottery laws provides for the garnishment of prizes to collect various debts, ranging from unpaid taxes to outstanding child support obligations. Usually, only prizes over a certain amount may be garnished. One state specifies that only prizes over $100 may be garnished, another sets the limit at $2,500. Texas permits garnishment of prizes won by persons who have defaulted on guaranteed student loans.

Interestingly, there are some unusual circumstances in various states. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont each authorize two lotteries: their own and a Tri-State Lotto that is authorized under a tri-state compact. The proceeds are distributed equally among the three states. Finally, it is interesting to note that Nevada does not permit a state lottery. Perhaps this would be seen as competing with one of the state’s major industries.

Overall, the matter of state lotteries is only one category, albeit a big one, of the laws relating to gambling. The law of gambling is a very complex and varied area of state regulation. Of late, gambling itself has been subject to many political pressures, both for and against legalization. Although gambling is not treated in this chapter, one interested in the subject may use statute citations provided to locate the general gambling laws for each state.

Inside State Laws