The History of the Lottery


The lottery is the name given to an arrangement by which prizes are allocated based on chance. These arrangements can be applied to a wide variety of circumstances, such as kindergarten admission at a prestigious school or a subsidized housing unit, or they can be run as a form of public recreation, like the kind offered by sports teams that dish out prizes to paying participants.

Lotteries first appeared in the United States in the immediate post-World War II period, when many states were seeking to expand their array of services without raising taxes on middle and working class citizens. They were largely successful at their objective of raising state revenue, and they also gained widespread public approval because they dangled the possibility of instant wealth in an age of limited social mobility and increasing inequality.

A large prize amount attracts attention from the media, and this in turn draws more people to the game. Often the top prize is so large that it cannot be awarded in a single drawing, and then the sum is carried over to the next drawing. As the jackpot grows, so does public interest in the lottery, and it is this elusive sliver of hope that keeps people buying tickets.

Some states divvy out the money raised from lottery sales among specific state-supported programs, such as education. However, most of the time, the money is simply used to support a general state budget, and in this context lotteries have maintained their popularity, even during times of fiscal stability.