What is a Lottery?

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What is a Lottery?
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A lottery is a game in which people pay a small amount of money for the chance to win a large sum of money, sometimes millions of dollars. It is a form of gambling and is often run by governments for the purpose of raising money for public projects.

As Cohen writes, “the heyday of the lottery coincided with a crisis in state funding that required states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services.” Lotteries proved a useful way for states to raise money without triggering a backlash from their anti-tax electorate. They also became an easy way for many Americans to indulge in the fantasy that one day they might become rich.

In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, as inflation accelerated, unemployment rose, and health-care costs ballooned, America’s prosperity began to wane. The dream of winning the lottery, as ever, became even more luring.

The problem is that there’s a lot more to lottery than just the chance to hit the jackpot. The prize pool must be deducted for administrative costs and profits, and a percentage of the remaining funds normally goes to charities or to fund other state or private lotteries. That leaves very little left for the actual winner, whose payout is typically an annuity that starts with a big initial payment and then divides into 29 annual payments, each increasing by 5%. It takes a while for the full amount to be received, but for many players it’s still worth playing.

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