What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold, and prizes (often cash) are given to the holders of those numbers, often sponsored by a state or other organization as a means of raising funds.

Despite the fact that there is only one-in-a-million chance of winning, lottery participation continues to grow across the globe. It is estimated that the amount of money gambled on lotteries worldwide is now more than $240 billion a year. The popularity of lottery is attributed to the fact that it is considered a painless way for governments to raise revenue and provide services without having to increase taxes on working people.

In the immediate post-World War II period, this arrangement allowed states to expand a wide range of public services without burdening middle and working class families too much. This was a golden age for lotteries, but that arrangement has now come to an end. The rise of inequality and the cost of the war in Vietnam have made it impossible for most states to continue expanding their social safety nets while relying on the proceeds of lotteries to do so.

When a lottery is established, the state legislates a monopoly for itself and establishes an independent agency or public corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of profits). It usually begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games and, under constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively increases the size and complexity of its offerings.