History of the Lottery


Lottery is a popular form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers for prizes. It has existed in various forms throughout history, from keno slips of the Han dynasty to modern state-run games. While most people play for fun, others believe that it is their only way out of poverty or into wealth. Despite the low odds of winning, the lottery contributes billions to public coffers each year.

Historically, states have legislated a monopoly for the lottery; established an agency or corporation to run the games; began operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, under constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expanded their offerings in terms of new games and increased prize amounts. In the process, they have dangled the promise of instant riches in front of millions of people.

The earliest lotteries were probably town lotteries that raised money to build walls and fortifications. They were also a common method for raising funds to help the poor. Records from towns in the Low Countries of the early 15th century show that lotteries were used for both purposes.

Many people buy a lottery ticket at least once a year, and about 50 percent of them do so regularly. These players tend to be lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. The resulting mix makes it quite difficult to sustain a lottery system without massive public subsidies, and it also creates an unfair distribution of the prize money among the top 20 or 30 percent of winners.