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What is the DC lottery for kids?

The DC lottery for kids refers to a program run by the District of Columbia Lottery that allows minors to purchase lottery tickets. While most US lotteries prohibit the sale of lottery tickets to those under 18 or 21 years old, Washington DC has taken the unique approach of creating lottery games specifically for children and teenagers. The stated purpose is to teach financial literacy and math skills in a fun way. However, the program has garnered controversy, with critics arguing that it promotes underage gambling.

Quick Facts

  • Launched in 2019 in Washington DC
  • Open to DC residents aged 5-17
  • Players can win prizes up to $100 in special scratch-off games
  • Critics argue it normalizes gambling for minors
  • DC Lottery defends it as promoting math and money skills

History of the DC Lottery for Kids

The DC lottery for kids was first proposed in 2017 by DC councilmember Alexander Washington as a way to teach minors financial literacy. The argument was that playing lottery games would familiarize children with concepts like probability, making change, and responsible money management. After passing the DC city council, the program was launched in 2019 with specially designed instant win games for minors.

Reasoning behind the Program

Councilmember Washington, who spearheaded the initiative, argued that most children are already exposed to lots of gambling influences through their family members who play the lottery. The kids’ lottery would provide a safe environment for them to learn skills that are part of mainstream social life. He saw it as no different than youth soccer leagues that teach teamwork and discipline.

The DC Lottery also touted the educational merits. Besides basic math, children must read and interpret the games’ rules and odds disclosures printed on the tickets. This promotes reading comprehension, analysis, and responsible gaming practices. Lottery executive May Chen described prizes as an incentive for learning, not a lure into gambling.

Initial Implementation

The DC Lottery started the program slowly with just two instant win scratch games offered to minors. Game 1 was called Cashwords Jr. and let players match letter combinations to solve word puzzles, similar to a crossword. Game 2 was Lucky Numbers, where players scratch off a set of integers and win if they match certain combinations. Prizes ranged from free tickets up to $100.

Retailers were instructed to keep the kids’ lottery tickets separated from regular games. Children had to show valid ID to prove DC residency and age eligibility. Ticket sales were limited to minors between 5-17 years old.

Ongoing Games and Prizes

Since its launch, the DC lottery for kids has expanded to offer around a dozen different scratch-off and pull-tab games. They continue to be housed separately from adult lottery games in designated vending machines and sales terminals. Some of the game options include:


  • Multiplication Money – Scratch off math problems to reveal dollar prize amounts.
  • Spelling Bee – Uncover letters to spell words and win up to $100.
  • Money Maze – Navigate a maze to find cash prizes.
  • Cashword Jr – Solve word puzzles for a shot at $500.


  • Fruit Loop – Match 3 fruits in a row to win.
  • Lucky 7s – Uncover three 7 symbols for the jackpot.
  • Piggy Bank – Find matching coin symbols to fill your bank.

Other games involve maps, sports trivia, decoding secret messages, and math-based match games. Top prizes range from $50 to $100 in cash or gift cards. Certain games offer non-cash merchandise like video game systems and bikes as prizes valued up to $500.

Rules and Regulations

The DC Lottery kids’ games are subject to certain regulations and restrictions:

  • Players must be DC residents between ages 5-17.
  • Tickets cannot be purchased by adults on behalf of minors.
  • Retailers cannot sell adult and kids lottery games in the same transaction.
  • Each ticket costs between $1-2 with no bulk discounts.
  • Minors cannot collect prizes over $600 in cash – they get gift cards instead.
  • Kids must validate winning tickets in person with ID.
  • Tickets cannot be purchased using welfare assistance funds.

Retailers face penalties up to losing their lottery license for violating the age restrictions. The DC Lottery also reserves the right to deny payouts on tickets bought illegally by ineligible players.

Child Protection Measures

Besides keeping the kids’ and adult games strictly separated, the lottery also imposes the following child protections:

  • Minors cannot buy tickets anonymously – ID is mandatory.
  • Winning amounts are capped much lower than regular games.
  • Retailer training is focused on preventing underage sales.
  • Games do not depict risky behavior like alcohol or crime.
  • Tickets carry gambling addiction helpline numbers.
  • Proactive auditing and enforcement of age limits.

Retailer compliance is closely monitored with secret shopper style checks using underage confederates. Fines for violations start at $1000 and escalate from there. Repeated infractions can result in terminating lottery sales privileges.

Usage and Sales Trends

In the initial year, the DC Lottery reported over $700,000 in ticket sales for the kids games. That revenue has grown by 15-25% annually as the program has expanded. Current sales average around $1.5 million per year.

Approximately 65% of eligible DC children played the lottery in its first year based on ticket redemption data. Lottery officials estimate at least 50% of qualified minors buy tickets regularly. Weekly per capita spending averages $2-3.

Scratch-off games tend to see much higher sales than pull-tab versions. The most popular games involve math skills followed by word puzzles. Sports-themed and trivia games rank lowest in revenue. Girls and boys show roughly equal participation rates.

Sales Trends by Age

Age Group Avg. Weekly Spending
5-8 years $2
9-12 years $3
13-15 years $5
16-17 years $8

Teenagers spend significantly more than younger children, likely due to having more pocket money and independence. But participation remains strong across all age brackets.

Seasonal Trends

Kids game revenue also sees sizable spikes around back-to-school season and the winter holidays – up 30% above average. Ticket sales dip in the summer months when school is out. The DC Lottery times its new game releases and prize giveaways around high seasonality periods.

Arguments For and Against

The DC lottery for kids has polarized public opinion since its inception. Supporters view it as an innovative way to impart important life lessons. But critics condemn the very notion of state-sponsored underage gambling.

Supporter Arguments

  • Kids gain exposure to math concepts in a fun way.
  • Teaches research skills reading odds and game rules.
  • Demystifies gambling by placing it in a controlled environment.
  • Winnings incentivize learning and financial savvy.
  • Kids learn how to manage pocket money responsibly.
  • Safer than illegal or underground gambling among youth.

DC Lottery research also indicates over 80% of parent approve of their children playing lottery games. Many see it as cheaper than buying video games while still providing entertainment.

Opponent Arguments

  • Normalizes gambling rather than teaches responsibility.
  • Takes advantage of children’s natural risk-seeking behavior.
  • Addictive “gateway” to adult compulsive gambling.
  • State should not profit from minors’ financial inexperience.
  • Tickets swallow up money better spent on positive leisure activities.
  • Hard for parents to monitor or control completely.

Critics also argue that most minors buy tickets with parents’ money behind their backs. And the games strategically target kids’ immature cognitive biases.

Problem Gambling Concerns

One major area of concern is the potential for the DC kids’ lottery to enable problem gambling among minors. Medical experts caution that children are especially vulnerable to developing addictive behaviors around gambling due to an undeveloped frontal cortex.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase a child’s likelihood of developing unhealthy lottery or gambling habits include:

  • Parental disapproval of their ticket purchases.
  • Depression, anxiety, or impulsiveness.
  • Big wins early on skewing their perception of odds.
  • Using tickets as a coping mechanism or escape.
  • Lack of other interests or hobbies.
  • Parents or siblings with addictive gambling habits.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Suresh Roy, habit-forming neurological pathways can solidify much faster in children exposed to gambling activities. So even small stakes lottery games carry risk when introduced before age 14.

Warning Signs

Potential red flags of an unhealthy fixation on lottery or betting among minors:

  • Spending most free time playing lottery games.
  • Sneaking money from parents for tickets.
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends and activities.
  • Obsessing over odds and potential winnings.
  • Irritability or restlessness between games.
  • Lying about gambling activities and behaviors.

If parents notice multiple signs of problem gambling emerging, experts recommend immediately restricting access to lottery tickets and consulting a counselor. Ongoing monitoring and open communication are also essential.

Financial Literacy Impact

Supporters often tout the kids’ lottery as promoting better financial literacy. But does it actually help minors become wiser with money? The data presents a mixed picture.

Potential Benefits

Research into lottery players aged 10-17 found they demonstrate:

  • Enhanced basic math and arithmetic skills.
  • Better understanding of probability concepts.
  • Increased desire to learn money management skills.
  • More responsible spending habits.

DC Lottery focus group surveys also show over 90% of minor players believe the games taught them useful math and money lessons. Many parents agree their financial knowledge has improved.

Criticisms and Concerns

On the other hand, child development experts argue:

  • Lottery games promote misperceptions of random chance.
  • Winnings are poor incentive for real academic achievement.
  • Ticket purchases displace opportunities for true money experience.
  • Games encourage trivial spending rather than savings.

Critics also contend the tickets take advantage of children’s cognitive biases and lack of judgment – encouraging foolish spending for a tiny chance at a prize. In essence, the games teach the opposite of wise money management.

Attempts to Expand to Other Cities

The novelty and high revenue potential of the DC lottery for kids has prompted attempts by other jurisdictions to adopt similar programs. However, most have encountered public opposition or concerns over legality.

Failed Campaigns

Other lotteries rebuffed for proposing underage games include:

  • New York in 2020 – State legislature denied request.
  • Chicago in 2021 – Bill passed city council but vetoed by mayor.
  • Maryland in 2022 – Killed in committee.
  • Seattle in 2022 – Council voted down pilot program.

Virginia also introduced a bill in 2021 but it was quickly pulled after outrage from gambling addiction groups.

Legal Barriers

The biggest obstacle to expanding minor lotteries is state laws explicitly prohibiting lottery ticket sales to anyone under 18 or 21. Most legal experts doubt these could be overridden without public votes to change the constitutions. Attempts to create non-monetary games have still faced age limit bans.

Some officials in other jurisdictions took guidance from federal authorities that such games would be considered illegal gambling. So the idea remains confined to DC due to its unique status as a federal territory.

Potential Adjustments and Changes

While the DC Lottery plans to continue the kids’ games, officials have discussed options to refine the program:

New Game Designs

Future games may shift away from mimicking adult scratch games. Replacement ideas include app-based games focused on neutral themes without cash symbols. This could reduce criticism the games overly emulate adult lottery play.

Strengthen Protections

Possible safeguards are increased staff training on problem gambling, more prominent helpline numbers on tickets, and removing certain prize incentives that encourage addictive play. A mandatory waiting period between ticket purchases has also been proposed.

Financial Literacy Curriculum

Offering supplementary math instruction or money management lessons could make the experience more educational. This may justify the games as youth education rather than just gambling.

Classroom-Only Play

Confine ticket sales to school hours and require adult supervision for games. Teachers must incorporate the lottery into lesson plans on probability and personal finance. This would address concerns over insufficient parental oversight.


The DC lottery for kids provides a legal loophole to allow those under 18 to play lottery games. Proponents believe it teaches valuable skills and demystifies gambling in a controlled fashion. But critics argue it exploits children’s vulnerabilities and promotes reckless spending and unhealthy addiction.

Evidence on both sides suggests potential benefits along with considerable risks. Further research into managing those risks may allow minor lotteries to spread as educational entertainment under the right restrictions. But public discomfort with endorsing any underage gambling remains high. This opposition continues blocking attempts to expand similar programs beyond Washington DC.