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The Evolution of the Lottery

A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by chance, requiring participants to spend money for a small probability of a large gain. This arrangement is popular in many states because it provides a source of revenue to state governments without increasing taxes or other burdens on the general population.

While the lottery is an important source of state revenue, critics point out that it has also become a tool for special interest groups to exert political influence over state spending and policy decisions. These interests include convenience store owners (which sell the tickets); suppliers of lottery equipment and supplies, such as scratch-off games; teachers in states that earmark lottery funds for education; and state legislators, who often feel entitled to gamble their own lottery revenues.

The concept of lotteries goes back centuries, with examples cited in the Old Testament, in which Moses was instructed to take a census of Israel and then divide its land by lot, and in Roman emperors’ giving away property and slaves. Lotteries were introduced in the United States by British colonists, but their initial reaction was largely negative and ten states banned them from 1844 to 1859.

Today, lotteries are booming in popularity, driven by the public’s desire to win big prizes. The big jackpots are not only attractive to the public but also drive ticket sales and generate a windfall of free publicity on newscasts and web sites. These big jackpots are also a factor in the lottery’s evolution, as they lead to more and larger promotions and new forms of games.