The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a game of chance run by state governments for the purpose of raising money for public purposes. It is distinguished from other forms of gambling in that a percentage of the profits are often donated to good causes. Generally, it consists of a drawing of numbers for a prize. Several states have a state-run lottery, and others run private lotteries.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when American banking and taxation systems were still developing, lotteries became one of the most common ways for states to raise capital quickly. They were used by prominent figures like Thomas Jefferson to pay off debts and Benjamin Franklin to purchase cannons for Philadelphia. By the late 1800s, however, corruption and moral uneasiness with the games caused them to fade into history.

After World War II, states began to reintroduce state-run lotteries as a way to boost government revenues without burdening the middle and working classes with higher taxes. Supporters of lotteries argue that they are a form of “voluntary” taxation, but critics call them dishonest and an unseemly way to skirt direct taxes.

While the odds of winning a lottery are astronomically low, people continue to play them in large numbers, spending a disproportionate share of their incomes on tickets. As a result, many state lotteries are regressive, with lower-income Americans paying a larger share of the total cost than richer Americans. These facts have prompted some states to create hotlines for compulsive lottery playing, and a few to consider regulating the games more strictly.