What is a Lottery?


A game in which participants draw lots to determine who will receive something, such as a prize. Lotteries are sometimes used to raise money for charitable causes. They also can be a popular form of gambling.

Lottery is an ancient pastime, dating back to the Han dynasty (205–187 BC) and attested in the Bible, where the casting of lots was used for everything from choosing kings to deciding who gets the garments of Jesus after the Crucifixion. Today’s lottery draws on this history as it raises billions each year from a public willing to take the long shot in order to win big.

In the nineteen-seventies, states began to establish state-run lotteries in order to finance government projects without raising taxes. The first of these was New Hampshire, followed by Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The appeal of the lottery grew throughout the Northeast and Rust Belt as state governments looked for ways to balance their budgets and placate an increasingly tax-averse electorate.

The modern lottery has evolved from its humble beginnings to a multibillion-dollar industry with an inextricable link to our national obsession with unimaginable wealth. The popularity of the lottery grew in tandem with declining financial security for working people, as the gap between rich and poor increased, pensions eroded, health-care costs rose, and the old promise that hard work and education would provide for a secure retirement and a middle-class life came to seem ever more out of reach.