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Will Nevada ever have a lottery?

Nevada is currently one of only a handful of U.S. states that does not have a state-sponsored lottery. For years, there have been debates and proposals to establish a lottery in Nevada, but it has never come to fruition. With growing budget deficits and the success of lotteries in other states, the question remains – will Nevada ever approve and implement a state lottery?

The Current Situation in Nevada

Nevada has a long history of opposing and voting down proposals to enact a state lottery. Nevada voters have rejected ballot measures to approve a lottery in 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2016. The reasons behind this opposition vary, but some of the main arguments against a Nevada state lottery include:

  • Nevada already allows extensive gambling through the casino and gaming industry. Some feel a state-run lottery would compete against this private enterprise.
  • Lotteries tend to prey on lower-income residents spending disproportionately on tickets. Some view it as an unethical “tax on the poor.”
  • The influx of gambling addicts and associated issues a lottery may bring is seen as unwanted by some citizens.
  • Conservative voters are ideologically opposed to state-run gambling for moral reasons.
  • With the casino industry, Nevada already has a way to tax and regulate gambling that some view as sufficient.

Additionally, the powerful casino industry has historically opposed and lobbied against a state lottery in Nevada to protect its business interests. With casinos contributing substantial tax revenue already, there was less urgency for Nevada to establish an additional form of state-run gambling.

However, the opposition is not unanimous. Supporters of a Nevada lottery point out:

  • Forty-five states plus Washington D.C. currently have government-run lotteries, showing it’s a reliable revenue source.
  • With potential jackpots in the hundreds of millions, a Nevada lottery could attract tourism and spending from neighboring states.
  • Lottery revenue could help supplement Nevada’s budget for education, social programs, and more.
  • Nevada residents already cross state lines to purchase lottery tickets in bordering states like California and Arizona, so a local lottery would keep that revenue in-state.

So while a lottery has failed to take hold in past decades, the door is not completely closed. Ongoing budgetary challenges and changing public attitudes could potentially shift the calculus in favor of a Nevada state lottery someday.

The Budget Problems Facing Nevada

Nevada has long relied heavily on gaming and tourism revenue to fund the state budget. However, this revenue source has proven volatile during economic downturns. During the Great Recession, Nevada led the nation in foreclosures, unemployment, and budget shortfalls. Revenue from gaming and sales taxes plummeted.

The pandemic and associated restrictions created further budget woes for the state. Though revenue has rebounded somewhat, economic uncertainty continues. Supporters of a state lottery argue it could provide a stable source of supplemental revenue even during downturns.

Nevada has no state income tax. It relies on the combination of sales, gaming, business, and other taxes for revenue. However, this tax structure has left budgets susceptible to economic conditions. A lottery with steady ticket sales could be a way to shore up funds for vital services.

Though gaming taxes still provide billions in annual revenue, some also warn that casinos face growing competition from online and sports betting. A state lottery may become more appealing to make up potential future shortfalls.

Nevada Budget Facts

  • Nevada has a biennial budget of approximately $27 billion for FY 2022-23.
  • Gaming taxes accounted for over 25% of Nevada’s general fund revenue in FY 2020.
  • The general fund saw a shortfall of $812 million for FY 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts.
  • Nevada has faced budget gaps exceeding $1 billion during past recessions.

With the state wary of new taxes, a lottery is one option some point to as a way to boost revenue without further burdening citizens and businesses.

Trends in Other States

While Nevada has resisted the lottery trend, participation has grown exponentially across most of the country since New Hampshire introduced the first modern state lottery in 1964.

Some key stats:

  • 45 states plus Washington D.C. currently operate lotteries.
  • Combined nationwide lottery revenue reached $92 billion in FY 2021.
  • Five lotteries – New York, Florida, Texas, California and Massachusetts – accounted for 50% of sales.
  • Massachusetts alone generated over $6 billion in lottery revenue in 2021.
  • The average American spends $235 per year on lottery tickets.

State lotteries have become a major revenue generator due to persistently high demand. Even through economic ups and downs, millions of Americans continue buying lottery tickets for a chance to win big jackpots and prizes.

While no state has come to completely rely on lottery revenue, the billions raised annually have made lotteries an attractive tool for legislatures across the U.S. Proponents argue Nevada is forgoing a reliable revenue stream most states now utilize.

Top 5 State Lotteries by Revenue

State FY 2021 Revenue
New York $10.2 billion
Florida $7.4 billion
Texas $6.7 billion
California $6.6 billion
Massachusetts $6.2 billion

Where Does Lottery Revenue Go?

While lottery revenue generally makes up a small fraction of overall state budgets, the billions generated annually fund a variety of key programs and services.

Education is the most common beneficiary of lottery funding. Most states dedicate either all or a portion of lottery revenue to supplements for education costs. Other common uses include:

  • General budget shortfalls
  • Infrastructure and construction projects
  • Senior services and healthcare
  • Tourism and economic development programs
  • Veterans assistance
  • Natural resources and environmental conservation

This wide application of lottery revenue helps explain the appeal for states. In Nevada, supporters argue lottery funds could help cover shortfalls for education, social services, and other government functions.

However, critics counter that lottery revenue tends to just substitute rather than supplement existing funding. They argue states grow reliant on lottery funds to pay for programs that should be supported through taxation. There are reasonable cases on both sides of this debate over optimal use of lottery earnings.

The Potential Impact of a Nevada Lottery

While a Nevada lottery has failed to take hold so far, hypothetically its impact could be significant for the state.

Based on Nevada’s population size and robust tourist numbers, first-year lottery ticket sales could plausibly reach $800 million to $1 billion or more. While this would decrease after the initial launch year, annual revenue in the range of $500 million could still be reasonably sustained.

For perspective, this would rival the revenues of lotteries in some similarly sized states like Alabama and South Carolina. It could provide Nevada with hundreds of millions in supplemental funds each year.

Opinions differ on where the money would be best allocated. Education, infrastructure, and debt service are leading possibilities that tend to have bipartisan appeal. Others argue revenues should first cover essential services and obligations before being directed to new projects.

Of course, a lottery would also come with downsides. Some argue the societal effects like increased problem gambling could outweigh the benefits. Lottery revenue tends to be regressive as well, disproportionately coming from lower-income ticket buyers.

There would certainly be logistical challenges in setting up a new lottery system too. Existing lottery states caution it can take a year or more to fully establish a lottery administration and distribution network.

On balance, a Nevada lottery could generate meaningful new revenue but would require careful implementation to maximize benefits and minimize harm.

Could Casino Interests Support a Lottery?

The casino industry’s traditionally staunch opposition has long been a major barrier to a Nevada lottery. With over 200 casinos generating over $12 billion in gambling revenue annually, the industry carries significant political sway.

However, there are signs casino interests may someday soften this opposition:

  • As casinos expand nationwide, they have become invested in lotteries across multiple states.
  • A lottery could complement casino/hotel visitor packages, similar to casinos outside Nevada.
  • Tax rates on casinos remain reasonable. Gambling still provides the lion’s share of Nevada’s gaming revenue.
  • A lottery could create new tourism opportunities and enhance Nevada’s “gaming” brand.
  • Casinos now face greater competition from online and sports gambling.

For these reasons, a mutually agreeable lottery compromising could plausibly take form. Perhaps casinos would accept a lottery if gaming tax rates remain stable in exchange.

It would still require a major strategic shift for casinos to endorse a lottery after fighting it for so long. But their calculus may change as gambling evolves nationwide in coming years.

What are the Odds Going Forward?

Given its repeated rejection historically, a Nevada state lottery remains unlikely in the immediate future. The next proposal would face substantial skepticism and uncertainty.

However, longer-term there are several reasons the odds could shift:

  • Continued budget and revenue issues may increase pressure to explore new options.
  • Lottery approval has momentum in recent years, passing in more conservative states.
  • Eventual support from casino and gaming interests would be influential.
  • Younger generations may be more receptive to state lottery participation.
  • Gradual cultural acceptance as all neighboring states operate lotteries.
  • An innovative lottery structure or application of funds could sway some skeptical voters.

Surrounding dynamics would need to change substantially to override Nevada’s long lottery opposition. Younger voters and strained budgets could potentially provide the catalyst.

For 2023, lottery prospects remain dim. But in the long run, the right conditions and revised proposal could finally tip the scales toward Nevada joining the national lottery trend.


Nevada stands firm as the largest state without a government-run lottery despite periodic proposals dating back decades. The successful casino industry, conservative leanings, and influence of gaming interests have all contributed to this outlier status.

However,lottery revenues have become a vital budget supplement for most other states. As pressures mount on Nevada’s finances, lottery advocates will likely continue pushing the issue during times of shortfalls.

While approval is unlikely in the near term absent a major change, evolving consumer attitudes, new compromises on use of funds, and a generational shift could paint a different picture 10-20 years down the road.

If managed carefully to maximize benefits, a Nevada state lottery someday adopting neighboring states’ approach could provide reasonable returns for education, social services, and infrastructure. The timing remains uncertain and significant hurdles persist, but the door is not yet closed on Nevada eventually joining the ranks of lottery states.