What is a Lottery?
A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes, such as property, money, or slaves, are allocated by lot, with the number of winners determined by a random process. It is sometimes run by a government, and is often considered gambling. It is not a popular choice for people who are concerned with ethical gambling or want to minimize the likelihood of addiction.
Lottery has a long history, with early examples including the Old Testament’s instruction to Moses to divide land by lot. Later, the Roman emperors distributed property and slaves by lot during Saturnalian feasts. In the 1500s Francis I of France learned about Italy’s lottery system and attempted to organize a French lottery, but it was a fiasco.
In the post-World War II era, state governments began to expand their social safety nets, but this growth collided with an economic crisis. Combined with inflation and the costs of the Vietnam War, it became increasingly difficult for states to balance their budgets without hiking taxes or cutting services—which voters would punish them for at the polls.
For politicians, a lottery seemed like a budgetary miracle. They could advertise that a lottery would float the entire budget, and then claim that the proceeds would cover a specific line item—usually education but also elder care, parks, or aid to veterans—and thus avoid the stigma associated with a general tax hike. For gamblers, the argument went, they would be doing a good deed for their fellow citizens, while avoiding the guilt and irrationality that accompany most forms of gambling.