The History of Lottery

Lottery consists of a game in which numbers are drawn for prizes. While making decisions or determining fates by the casting of lots has a long record in human history (including several instances in the Bible), lotteries for material gain are more recent, having been first held during the Roman Empire for municipal repairs and as an entertainment at dinner parties. In the seventeenth century it was common in Europe for governments and licensed promoters to hold lotteries, distributing the proceeds of the tickets as money or goods.

State government lotteries are often promoted as a source of revenue that helps support public services without imposing heavy taxes on the middle and working classes. While this argument is most persuasive when the economy is in stress, it does not necessarily influence whether or when states adopt a lottery. Regardless of the objective fiscal health of state government, a lottery typically wins broad public approval when it is seen as promoting a particular social good like education.

Once a lottery is established, however, the debate and criticism tends to focus on more specific features of its operations, such as its alleged regressive impact on lower-income groups and problems of compulsive gambling. This shift in the focus of criticism has prompted some state lotteries to seek ways to reduce regressivity, including offering games with fewer numbers or expanding to new forms of gaming.