History of Lottery Games


A lottery is a form of gambling in which tickets are sold and prizes are awarded by chance. State lotteries have become increasingly popular, and there are now lotteries in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Prizes range from instant-win scratch-off games to daily numbers games in which players select a series of digits. Despite the popularity of these games, critics of state lotteries argue that they promote gambling and lead to poor outcomes, particularly for the poor. In addition, the way in which most state lotteries are governed and run can create conflicts between the interests of the public and private profit.

The history of lotteries is long and varied. The biblical Old Testament includes instructions for dividing land by lot, and Roman emperors used lotteries to distribute slaves and property during Saturnalian feasts. In the early American colonies, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia, and Thomas Jefferson held a private lottery to try to pay off his crushing debts.

Today, state governments adopt lotteries with the rationale that proceeds can fund public goods without the need for draconian tax increases or cuts in other important public services. But studies have shown that state government fiscal health does not strongly influence public approval of lotteries, and lottery revenue is generally independent of a state’s overall financial position. Instead, the success of a state lottery is typically attributed to its perceived benefits to society and the fact that it does not require onerous taxes on the middle class and working people.