The History of the Lottery


A lottery is a game of chance in which people place bets on numbers or symbols, and the winner(s) are chosen by drawing lots. The prize money is usually a fixed percentage of the total amount staked, minus expenses for promotion and taxes. To play, a bettor writes his name or identifies himself in some way on a ticket that is deposited with the lottery organization for shuffling and possible selection in the draw. Alternatively, he may purchase a numbered receipt in the knowledge that this number will be entered into a pool of numbers and he can determine later if he won.

Cohen argues that modern lotteries got their start in the nineteen sixties, when growing awareness of the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. With a population that was expanding rapidly, rising inflation, and the cost of the Vietnam War mounting, state budgets began to deflate, and balancing them became increasingly difficult without raising taxes or cutting services.

Lottery proponents moved away from arguing that a statewide lottery would cover most of a state‚Äôs budget and instead started to claim that it would float a single line item, invariably a popular government service that was nonpartisan and largely uncontroversial–most often education but also elder care or public parks or aid for veterans. This strategy allowed them to argue that a vote for the lottery was not a vote in support of gambling, but in favor of a particular service; it also obscured how much rich people played and the regressivity of their purchases.