The History of the Lottery

The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine the winners. Prizes may be cash or goods. Lottery games are often characterized by high odds of winning. Many people consider lotteries to be a game of chance, though some people think that they are a form of skill. The definition of the word “lottery” in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, is “a process of allocating prizes by chance, or the distribution of articles of unequal value.”

Various European towns held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and the poor as early as the 15th century. Privately organized lotteries were also popular; Benjamin Franklin used a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson used a lottery to relieve his crushing debts.

By the 17th century, states began to establish state-run lotteries. These became highly popular and, in a few cases, helped to fund the construction of major colleges, such as Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale. In general, lottery revenues expanded rapidly after the introduction of a state lottery, then leveled off and even declined. Lottery companies responded by introducing new games to keep revenues increasing.

Today, there are 37 states that have a state-run lottery. Despite the popularity of these games, critics of the lottery point to their negative impact on the poor and problem gamblers. In addition, some question whether it is appropriate for a government to promote gambling.