The History of the Lottery

Lottery is a type of gambling in which numbers are drawn in order to win prizes, usually money. It is a very popular form of gambling and is often used to support good causes.

The drawing of lots has a long record in human history, with Moses using it to divide land, the Roman emperors giving away slaves by lottery, and Benjamin Franklin’s unsuccessful attempt to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British. In colonial America, it became a common means of funding public works projects and even church construction. It also came to play a key role in raising money for the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, and was instrumental in helping to spread English culture into the American colonies, despite Protestant prohibitions against gambling.

In the modern era, however, state-run lotteries began to take on new meaning, as states grappled with budget crises in the nineteen sixties. In the face of rising inflation, the cost of the Vietnam War, and a burgeoning social safety net, balancing a budget became more difficult than ever, and finding a solution that would not anger an increasingly anti-tax electorate proved impossible.

As a result, state lotteries became widely adopted as the answer to this dilemma. The argument was that, because people were going to gamble anyway, why not let the state reap the profits? This reframement of the debate made sense to many, even though it omitted the fact that most of the money went not to the prize winner but to lottery promoters and promotional costs. It also did not mention that the large majority of state lottery revenues went to one line item, typically education but occasionally elder care or public parks.