A lottery is a game in which people pay to enter a random drawing for prizes ranging from items to large sums of money. Lottery advertising typically focuses on dangling the possibility of instant riches, and the message is powerful. The vast majority of Americans play the lottery to some extent, and the amounts spent are enormous. Some play for the sheer fun of it, but others buy tickets because they think they will improve their lives in some way.
While the casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history (with numerous examples in the Bible), state-run lotteries are comparatively new. States generally establish a state-owned monopoly, hire a public corporation or agency to run it, and launch with a modest number of relatively simple games. Then, as a result of the constant pressure to increase revenues, they progressively expand the lottery’s offerings by adding new games and increasing prize amounts.
Unlike most state government activities, the lottery has enjoyed broad public support in every state where it is legalized. Lottery supporters frequently invoke a sense of the public good to explain this success, suggesting that proceeds benefit a particular societal need such as education. But studies show that the popularity of the lottery is not related to a state’s actual fiscal condition.
Instead, the real reason lotteries are so popular is that they promise an easy, painless source of revenue for a state. This argument is especially appealing in times of financial stress, when state governments are under pressure to raise taxes or reduce spending.