Official lottery is a game with established rules where players buy tickets for a chance to win cash or merchandise prizes. Unlike gambling, the prize fund is set in advance and the lottery operator does not participate in the game.
The United States began to use lotteries for revenue as early as the 18th century, although they were outlawed in most of Europe and many other countries. They became more common in the US, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against them, as the country sought to finance public works such as roads and schools.
When the jackpots got big, they drew more interest, and state governments began to get into the business of selling tickets. By the time the lottery industry reached its modern peak in the mid-1980s, states had sold more than $30 billion in tickets and were earning an annual windfall of over $100 million, according to The Washington Post.
That windfall, which came largely from the large jackpots, earned them a free stream of publicity, helping to make them more appealing to the general public than they were before. They also made them seem more lucrative, especially to those who did not live in the states that ran the games.
But these sweeping appeals were based on a false premise: that the lotteries were morally neutral, that they did not discriminate against the poor or the wealthy, and that all people had an equal chance of winning. These claims, however, were criticized by both liberal and conservative critics, who saw them as morally unjust.