Lottery Policy

Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn for a prize. In modern times, state-sanctioned lotteries raise funds for a variety of purposes, including education, infrastructure, and welfare programs. Many people are skeptical of lottery games, and critics have charged that they can be addictive. The fact that the lottery generates billions of dollars annually is no small matter, and it has led some to call for regulating the industry. But most state officials have little or no overall policy about it. Instead, the evolution of lottery policy is piecemeal and incremental, and public-welfare concerns are weighed only intermittently.

The history of lotteries dates back centuries. The Old Testament instructed Moses to take a census and divide land by lot, while Roman emperors used the procedure to give away property and slaves. It spread to Europe, and by the fourteen-hundreds dozens of towns in the Low Countries were holding them. These grew into public lotteries, which were used to build town fortifications and provide charity for the poor. The American colonies soon adopted them, despite Protestant proscriptions against gambling.

The first state-run lottery of the modern era was launched in New Hampshire in 1964, and other states followed suit within a few years. In the nineteen-sixties, however, growing awareness of all the money to be made in the gambling business collided with a crisis in state funding. Rising population, inflation, and the cost of the Vietnam War had eroded America’s prosperity, and states that relied on revenue from lotteries found it difficult to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services.