The History of Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling whereby numbers are drawn to determine the winner. It has long been used as a way to fund private and public projects, including canals, churches, colleges, and even the American Revolution. It is also popular in sports, where lottery-style drawings are sometimes held to determine draft picks for teams. For example, the National Basketball Association holds a lottery for the 14 teams that did not make the playoffs to decide their draft picks.

State-sponsored lotteries are now a common feature in many countries and have been credited with boosting economic growth. However, they are not without controversy. Some critics argue that they encourage compulsive gambling, detract from the value of education, and disproportionately benefit the rich. While others see lotteries as a useful tool for raising money for social welfare programs.

While there is a certain inextricable human impulse to gamble, the fact remains that lottery participants know they are taking a long shot at winning. Despite this, the big prizes are so impressive that they are attractive to people who want to be rich but do not have much disposable income. This creates a dangerous dynamic that draws the poor into the gambling fray with the promise of instant wealth.

The earliest keno slips date back to 205 and 187 BC, and the lottery was first recorded in the Chinese Book of Songs (2nd millennium BC). In colonial America, it became a popular source of funds for public projects. In fact, the Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery in 1776 to raise money for the American Revolution. Although the plan was abandoned, lotteries remained popular in the colonies for several years and played an important role in financing private and public ventures. They were also widely used for raising tax revenues.

After New Hampshire established the modern era of state lotteries in 1964, other states soon followed suit. Almost all states have now adopted lotteries. Interestingly, the arguments for and against their adoption, and the structure of the resulting state lotteries, have evolved in remarkably similar ways.

Once a lottery is established, the public policy debate shifts from whether a lottery should be introduced to more specific features of its operations. The public debate tends to focus on specific constituencies, such as convenience store operators (lottery tickets are normally sold at these stores); suppliers of games and services (heavy contributions from these firms to state political campaigns are reported regularly); teachers (in states where lottery proceeds are earmarked for education); and state legislators (who quickly become accustomed to the extra revenue).

Because lotteries are run as businesses with an eye toward maximizing revenues, advertising necessarily targets groups who have a potential interest in gambling. These include poor people and people with a history of problem gambling. But does this marketing cross over into inappropriate government promotion of gambling? This question cannot be answered definitively, because the lottery industry continues to evolve.