The History of the Lottery

The casting of lots to determine fates has a long history (including several instances in the Bible), but the lottery as a means of material gain is only quite recently established. The first public lotteries to sell tickets for the distribution of prize money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and to help the poor.

Today, state lotteries are generally popular; in states that have them, 60% of adults play at least once a year. But many critics are skeptical about the state of the industry, with claims that a lottery system is fundamentally flawed and irrational in its appeals to gamblers. These arguments usually center around the fact that lottery profits are derived from chance, and that chances of winning vary by player.

For example, a study on lottery participation found that women and people in lower socioeconomic brackets play less; people in their mid-to late-life are more likely to play; people who attend college play more frequently than those with no higher education, and so forth. In addition, the number of people who play the lottery varies by race and age.

Lottery policies are made in a piecemeal fashion; the state legislates a monopoly for itself, establishes a public corporation or agency to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a portion of profits), and then begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. Then, under pressure to raise revenues, the lottery progressively expands its operations by adding new games.