What is a Lottery?


A gambling game or method of raising money, as for some public charitable purpose, in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for certain prizes. Modern lotteries, of which the drawing is a part, include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. A lottery is not a form of gambling in the sense that payment of a consideration (money or property) is required for participation.

In the early United States, when the nation’s banking and taxation systems were being established, lotteries became a popular way to raise funds for everything from roads to jails to colleges. Even famous leaders like thomas jefferson and benjamin franklin took part in them, with Jefferson holding a lottery to retire his debts and Franklin using one to buy cannons for Philadelphia. But by the late 1800s, lottery enthusiasm was fading. Corruption, moral unease, and the rise of bond sales and standardized taxation contributed to their decline.

But there was also a more basic reason for the decline: Lotteries were promoted as a painless source of state revenue, allowing states to expand their services without the politically toxic burden of raising taxes on middle-class and working-class citizens. The problem, however, is that the resulting state policies and reliance on lottery revenues are often out of control of the legislators and governors who initially established them. The evolution of these arrangements is a classic example of how the political process often works: Policy decisions are made piecemeal, with little or no overall overview. The result is that, for a growing number of people, life has come to be looked upon as one big lottery.