The History of the Lottery

The lottery is a gambling game in which players pay a small amount of money to have the chance to win a larger prize. Prizes are usually cash, but sometimes goods or services. The casting of lots to determine fates and make decisions has a long record in human history, with some examples recorded in the Bible, but public lotteries that offer prizes of money are much more recent. The first recorded public lotteries to distribute prize money were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor.

In the early post-World War II period, states were looking for new sources of revenue to expand state programs without increasing taxes on the middle class and working class. Many of these states introduced a lottery. The basic argument was that the lottery would allow state government to raise large sums of money from people who voluntarily spend their own money for the chance to get more than they paid in.

Lotteries typically start with a modest number of relatively simple games, and revenues rapidly expand as the public becomes aware of and attracted to the opportunity to win big money. However, as the lottery grows older, revenues tend to level off and even decline. This is partly because the public gets bored with the existing selection of games, and the lottery industry responds to this by introducing new games to maintain or increase revenues.