What is a Lottery?

A lottery is an arrangement of prizes whose allocation depends on chance, a process which, by definition, cannot be anticipated or controlled. Lottery play, therefore, is a form of risk taking.

A number of different state-run lotteries exist in the United States, and their histories follow similar patterns: the government legitimises a monopoly; establishes a public corporation or agency to run it; starts out with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, because of steady pressure for increased revenues, expands by adding new games and by offering bigger jackpots (which attracts new players).

The casting of lots as a means of making decisions and determining fate has a long history—including several examples in the Bible—but distributing tickets for money is considerably more recent. The earliest public lotteries to award prize money were held in the Low Countries, in cities such as Ghent and Bruges, in the 15th century to raise funds for municipal repairs and the poor.

Despite their popularity, lotteries are not without problems. One of the biggest is their tendency to create large, newsworthy jackpots that encourage people to buy more tickets. These super-sized prizes are a great marketing tool—they generate publicity for the game and draw on a wide range of specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (which are the primary vendors); lottery suppliers (who often make heavy contributions to political campaigns); teachers in states where the proceeds are earmarked for education; state legislators; and the general public.