What is a Lottery?

A lottery is an arrangement by which prizes are allocated to individuals based on chance. The casting of lots to determine decisions and fates has a long record in human history. The first recorded public lotteries in the West were held during the Roman Empire to raise funds for municipal repairs in Rome. The modern state lottery system originated in New Hampshire in 1964, and has since spread to nearly every state and the District of Columbia.

State lotteries are run as a business with the goal of maximizing revenues. Advertising focuses on persuading target groups to spend money on tickets. These include convenience store operators (who sell most tickets); lottery suppliers and their employees (who make substantial contributions to state political campaigns); teachers in states with earmarked revenue from lotteries for education; and the general population, especially those who are relatively poor.

The popularity of lotteries in the 1980s was linked to widening economic inequality and a sense that anyone could get rich with sufficient effort or luck. The rise of anti-tax movements also led lawmakers to look for alternatives to raising taxes, and lotteries seemed like a painless way to raise revenue.

Despite their popularity, state lotteries have problems with fairness. One major issue is that a small proportion of lottery players account for most sales. This concentration is due to the fact that lower-income people gamble more heavily relative to their incomes and derive greater value from dreams of wealth than do higher-income gamblers.