Lottery is a popular form of gambling. People spend billions on it each year, and state governments make huge amounts of money from it. Yet it’s hard to argue that the money that people spend on lottery tickets does much good for society, especially in the face of rising income inequality and stagnant wages.
State governments create and regulate lotteries. They set prizes and the odds of winning, select and train retailers, authorize retailers to sell lottery tickets, assist retail employees in using lottery terminals, and help them promote their products. They also pay high-tier prize winners and ensure that they, retailers, and players comply with state laws and regulations.
While lottery commissions have moved away from the message that playing the lottery is a fun experience, the fact remains that it is a game with a very real cost. It’s also a game with an ugly underbelly. It’s an exercise in denial, a way of rationalizing that it’s OK to gamble away your own money on an improbable outcome because somebody has to win, right?
The word lottery is derived from Middle Dutch loterie, which probably meant “a distribution by lots” (OED). The first modern state-sponsored lotteries were held in cities in Burgundy and Flanders in the 15th century, but it was only after the Revolutionary War that they became widely used to raise money for a variety of public uses. The oldest lottery still in operation is the Staatsloterij in the Netherlands.