Lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay for tickets that allow them to win big sums of money through a random drawing. Modern lotteries also include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away through a random procedure, and the selection of jury members. This article focuses on the state-sponsored financial lottery, in which the winnings are paid in cash.
State governments that legalize a lottery claim that it is an anti-tax revenue source, in which participants voluntarily spend their own money (instead of having it taken from them via taxes) for the benefit of the public. But in an era of declining economic security, it may be difficult for any government at any level to justify the continued expansion of a lottery that is itself a form of gambling.
The first state-sponsored lotteries began in the fourteenth century. Historically, they played a major role in financing both private and public ventures, such as building churches, libraries, colleges, canals, roads, bridges, etc. In colonial America, they helped finance private ventures such as the Academy Lottery in 1740 and the Princeton University Lottery in 1755, and public projects such as the construction of town fortifications and the Massachusetts College Lottery in the seventeenth century.
Increasingly, jackpots have reached record highs, and the publicity generated by these events helps drive ticket sales. But the real problem is that these jackpots have coincided with a period in which income inequality has widened, job security has declined, health-care costs have increased, and our long-standing national promise that hard work would result in a better life for children than for their parents has largely disappeared.