The Evolution of the Lottery

A lottery is a random drawing in which a prize or group of prizes are awarded to people who have paid money. They may be for financial purposes or to raise funds for public programs.

The origins of lotteries are unclear, though they appear in ancient Greece and Rome. They have been used for military conscription, commercial promotions, and the selection of jury members.

They were also used by governments and licensed promoters for financing many public projects, including the building of the British Museum and the repair of bridges. Until the late 1800s, lotteries were widespread in the United States.

By the end of the nineteenth century, however, corruption, moral uneasiness, and the rise of standardized taxation proved fatal to their popularity. By the turn of the twentieth century, only Louisiana maintained a state-run lottery.

When the first state lotteries were introduced, their advocates envisioned them as a silver bullet that would help fill state coffers without raising taxes. But the results were unsettling: in New Jersey, for instance, lottery revenue barely covered its costs.

In the decades that followed, however, campaigning for legalization shifted to different strategies. As Cohen notes, the newer proponents ginned up other ways of using lottery proceeds: in California, for example, a high-profile campaign touted it as a boon for schoolchildren, with lottery money covering as much as five per cent of the state education budget.

These campaigns were extraordinarily effective, but they wildly inflated the impact of lottery money on state finances. In fact, lottery revenue in most states is not nearly enough to float the state’s entire budget.

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