The History of the Lottery

Lottery is a game of chance that involves purchasing tickets in order to win a prize. It is a popular pastime for many people in the United States and contributes billions of dollars to state coffers annually. While making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long record in human history (including several examples in the Bible), the use of lotteries for material gain is much more recent. Public lotteries began in the 15th century in the Low Countries, where towns held them to raise money for town fortifications, as well as to help the poor. Privately organized lotteries also took off in the same period.

After World War II, state governments saw lotteries as a way to expand their array of services without imposing especially burdensome taxes on the middle class and working classes. Typically, the new lottery would establish itself by legislating a state-owned monopoly; establishing a publicly owned corporation to run it; and beginning operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. It then grew, mostly by adding more games, in order to generate more revenue.

Initially, the main message that lottery commissions broadcast was one of fun. In this sense, they wanted to make sure that people knew that the lottery was not just a serious business but that it was a game. This coded message, paired with the idea that the lottery was a painless form of taxation, helped it to grow.