What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a process whereby winners are chosen by a random drawing. It’s a popular form of gambling, and one that’s often administered by state or federal governments. People pay a small amount of money for a chance to win a prize, which can be a large sum of money.

The first recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries in the 15th century and raised funds for town walls and fortifications. They were also used to distribute land and property. Later, they were used to support public works projects such as canals, bridges, schools, libraries, churches and colleges. Many of these were financed by the government, but others were private enterprise ventures.

Lottery is a regressive tax, because the vast majority of people who play it are poorer. They are in the bottom quintile of income distribution and don’t have much discretionary money in their pockets for things like lottery tickets. So they are essentially paying for the hope that they might be rich, even though it’s an irrational and mathematically impossible endeavor.

The message lottery commissions send is that you should just go out and buy a ticket, because it’s a fun thing to do. That’s a message that needs to be changed, because it obscures the regressivity of the lottery and makes it seem a good idea when it isn’t. Americans spend $80 Billion a year on it and that’s an enormous amount of money that could be put to better use building emergency savings or paying off credit card debt.