Generally, lotteries are state-sponsored games where people pay for a ticket and win a prize if the numbers they select match those randomly drawn by machines. In the United States, all state lotteries are monopolies that do not compete with each other, and they are required to share their profits with their respective state governments.

In addition to the winnings, lottery proceeds go to fund the prizes (which is a good thing), the overhead cost of running the lottery, and the workers who run it. Some people work on designing scratch-off tickets, recording live drawing events, and keeping websites up to date. Some even work at lottery headquarters to help winners with their prizes.

The money that doesn’t make it to the winner, however, ends up in the general fund of participating states, which have complete control over how to spend it. Some use it to support gambling addiction recovery programs, while others invest it into things like roadwork and bridge work, police force, or social services.

The biggest message that lotteries are trying to communicate is that they’re doing a good thing by raising money for states. While this may be true — and it’s certainly a valid point to make in terms of marketing the game — this narrative overlooks the fact that the vast majority of lottery winnings are spent on tickets, with only a small percentage going to state coffers. And the regressive nature of this is obscured when lottery commissions use messages that frame it as a painless form of taxation.