What is the Lottery?

The lottery is a form of gambling in which individuals purchase a ticket for a chance to win a prize. Prizes can be monetary or non-monetary. Lottery play has been practiced for thousands of years, and traces have been found on keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty (2205–187 BC), in Roman inscriptions giving away property or slaves by lot, and in Saturnalian feasts where guests would receive pieces of wood with symbols on them to be used in a lottery at the end of the meal.

The popularity of the lottery is due to its inherent appeal as a gamble and its enticing promise of instant riches. It also reflects people’s inherent preference for small chances of large gains over small chances of large losses.

In an anti-tax era, lotteries provide a low-cost source of revenue for state governments. As a result, many states have come to depend on the “painless” revenue, and pressures are strong to increase the number of available games. The promotion of a form of gambling by state governments at any level raises ethical concerns.

The lottery draws a broad public base, but it also develops extensive specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (for whom the games are heavily promoted); lottery suppliers (whose executives often make significant contributions to state political campaigns); teachers (in states in which the proceeds of the lottery are earmarked for education); and even state legislators, who become accustomed to the revenue stream.