The History of the Official Lottery

A lottery is a form of gambling where players purchase tickets for a chance to win cash or other merchandise prizes. Its basic elements are: a system of recording identities, the amounts staked by each bettor, and the number(s) or other symbols on which the money is bet; a mechanism for collecting and pooling all the stakes; and a way to determine who wins the drawing.

Lotteries originated in Europe, where they were often used to raise funds for a political cause or as a means of obtaining voluntary taxes. The United States also began holding public lotteries for various reasons, including the American Revolution and to raise money for college building.

In the twentieth century, state governments sought to keep up with rising costs without raising taxes. This was a challenge even before the growth of casino gambling. The resulting crisis made it all the more attractive to turn to a relatively new source of revenue: lottery games.

Advocates of lottery funding claimed that the games would fill state coffers and prevent states from having to raise taxes or cut services. However, the first official lotteries to be legalized, in New Jersey and California, brought in less than two per cent of their revenues–a fraction of what their proponents had predicted.

Despite a host of critics who believed that state-sponsored lotteries were not fair or equitable, their advocates kept pushing for them. They used a variety of methods to convince voters that the lottery was an effective way to boost schools, fund social programs, and encourage normal taxation. But in a broader context, the lottery was a regressive and predatory form of state taxation that undermined ordinary people’s ability to pay for their own needs.