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What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a competition in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of winning numbers drawn at random. It is most frequently practiced by state governments for the purpose of raising money for a variety of public purposes.

Lotteries played a prominent role in financing the establishment of America’s first English colonies and were later used to fund road construction, port facilities, and even Harvard and Yale. They also helped finance the Revolutionary War and served as a source of revenue for the United States government during the early years of its existence.

During the immediate post-World War II period state lotteries became popular because they were thought to be one of the few ways that states could expand their array of services without increasing taxes, which were widely perceived as burdening the middle class and working classes. By the late 1960s lottery revenues were growing rapidly in many states.

In 1998 a Council of State Governments study found that most state lotteries were run by quasi-governmental or privatized lottery corporations, with oversight and enforcement responsibility in the hands of the state lottery commission, a legislative committee, or the attorney general’s office. This fragmentation of authority has made lottery oversight and regulation a classic example of how policy decisions are made piecemeal and incrementally by state legislatures, with little overall perspective or pressure to consider the broader public interest.

The messages promoted by lotteries are primarily focused on telling people that they are fun, and that playing is a civic duty and a way to help your local community. They are also aimed at encouraging people to play more, which obscures the fact that lotteries are a form of gambling and may have regressive effects on lower income households.