Lottery is a form of gambling wherein tickets are sold to be drawn in order to win a prize. The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century for the purpose of raising funds for town fortifications and helping the poor. These days, Americans spend upwards of $100 billion on lottery tickets every year. They do it for a variety of reasons, from the fact that they plain old like to gamble to the belief that they can change their luck by playing the Powerball or Mega Millions. Those who buy lots of tickets are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male.

State governments have embraced the lottery as easy fundraising tools that would funnel millions to public schools and other social services. But critics worry that states are becoming dependent on unpredictable gambling revenues while enticing people who can least afford to play into believing they will get rich overnight. In addition, studies have shown that lottery advertising is most aggressive in poor neighborhoods.

The problem is that state officials often fail to develop a coherent gaming policy. Instead, they make piecemeal decisions with little or no general overview and end up inheriting a legacy of policies they cannot easily manage or change. In addition, many state legislatures and executive branches defer to their lotteries when it comes to defining their own policies. This leaves the responsibility of making those policies to individual officials whose expertise is often limited in this area.