Lottery:

A type of gambling game in which people buy tickets and numbers are drawn to win a prize. Lotteries are usually run by a state government. People who win the lottery often have long odds of winning but, for many people, it’s their best or only chance to get a new start in life.

The first lotteries to offer money prizes were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century. They were used to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery in 1776 to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.

Generally, when people talk about the lottery they want to give it a positive spin. They believe that it’s a way to do good, that it helps people who have lost their jobs and need money, that it is a civic duty to participate, and that the state deserves our support for running it.

Lottery commissions rely on these messages to create the illusion that playing the lottery is fun, that it’s not a serious gamble and that people who play it aren’t spending a significant share of their incomes buying tickets. This message obscures the regressivity and irrationality of the games, and it’s a dangerous message for state governments to be sending.

In the past, many states legislated a monopoly for their lotteries; hired a public corporation to run them; established a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, because of constant pressure for additional revenue, expanded the scope of the games. The result is a classic example of policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little overall oversight, and the lottery quickly becomes a major source of funding that a state government cannot control.