The Truth About the Lottery


The lottery is a popular method of raising money for public and private ventures. It has a long history in human societies, dating back to at least the 16th century. The casting of lots for decisions and fates is even mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 20:17). Yet many people are lured to play lotteries by false promises that money can solve all their problems. The Bible forbids covetousness, and winning a jackpot is not a way to eliminate one’s problems. In fact, the vast sums of money on offer can sometimes make a person’s problems even worse.

In the United States, lotteries have a history dating back to 1776, when the Continental Congress authorized them to raise funds for the American Revolution. They also played an important role in colonial America, financing roads, libraries, churches, canals, and colleges. Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to help finance the purchase of cannons for Philadelphia’s defense against the British.

The primary message conveyed by state lotteries is that they are for a “good cause.” This appeal is especially strong during times of economic stress, when the prospect of tax increases or cuts to public programs may be on the horizon. But studies have shown that the societal utility of lottery proceeds is not always tied to a state’s fiscal health. Rather, it depends on a number of factors that can be broadly described as the “expected utility” of monetary and non-monetary benefits.