Thu. Apr 18th, 2024


Lottery is a form of gambling whereby bettors pay a small sum, select a group of numbers or have machines randomly spit out ones, and win prizes if their selections match those of others. It is an old idea, rooted in seventeenth-century Genoa and later popularized in England by lottery commissions that marketed their activities as a painless form of taxation. A basic element in most lotteries is a mechanism for recording the identities and amounts staked by bettors. The money is pooled together and a percentage of the total goes as costs of organizing and promoting the lottery and for profits to its sponsors, while the rest is available to the winners.

As a gambling game, lottery is self-evidently flawed, but it has proved hugely popular despite its inherent flaws. As a tool for public finance, it has allowed states to float budget crises without enraging their anti-tax electorates. It has also helped them finance a range of government services, from elder care to public parks and school placements to aid for veterans.

In the nineteenth century, as state lotteries proliferated, they also came to be regarded by many Americans as a useful way to fund education and public works. But as the nation’s late-twentieth-century tax revolt intensified, lottery advocates began shifting their argument to a narrower one. They stopped arguing that lottery money could float an entire state budget and instead claimed that it would cover a single line item–usually education–that a majority of voters supported.