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What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a game of chance in which numbers or symbols are drawn to win a prize. The first recorded lotteries with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. The casting of lots for making decisions and determining fates has a long record in human history, and some examples are mentioned in the Bible. The modern lottery is a form of public government-sponsored gambling that has become a major source of revenue for state governments, with a large share of the proceeds benefiting charities.

In an era of anti-tax, big-spending politics, state governments have adopted lotteries as an alternative to raising taxes. State-sponsored lotteries generate revenues from the sale of lottery tickets that are then divided amongst commissions for ticket retailers, overhead for the lottery system itself, and a portion for state government purposes such as education and gambling addiction programs.

Lottery advertising typically focuses on two messages. One is to emphasize that the money a player spends on a ticket will be used for some supposedly positive state purpose, such as education, roads, or a community center. The other message is to highlight the potential for a life-changing windfall. These super-sized jackpots drive lottery sales and fuel speculation about how much the top prize will grow to an apparently newsworthy amount at the next drawing. This type of promotion of gambling runs at cross-purposes with the government’s stated function to promote the health and welfare of its citizens.