What is a Lottery?


In a lottery, money or other prizes are awarded to winners through a process that relies entirely on chance. The first recorded lottery was held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise funds for town wall construction and help the poor. In the United States, George Washington ran a lottery to finance his military campaigns, and Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock operated state lotteries to help fund public buildings.

The modern lottery emerged in the immediate post-World War II period when state governments sought ways to expand their array of services without especially onerous tax increases on middle- and working-class taxpayers. State officials hoped that lotteries would provide sufficient revenue to pay for everything from education to highway construction, and that their popularity could eventually lead to the elimination of state income taxes altogether.

Lotteries have enjoyed broad public approval since they began in the 1960s, and their continued success has led them to become an indispensable part of state budgets. State governments now run monopoly lotteries, and they are permitted to sell tickets to adults physically present in the state (or its territories). In addition, a number of private companies have entered the lottery business, mainly by offering online services.

The rapid growth of the lottery industry has raised concerns about its impact on society, particularly on people with mental illness or addictions. It has also provoked debate about whether the lottery represents a good investment for state governments, given the comparatively small percentage of revenues that are returned to winners. Finally, the lottery’s role in promoting gambling has provoked criticism about its effects on compulsive gamblers and its regressive effect on lower-income groups.