The History of the Lottery


The practice of making decisions and determining fates by drawing lots has a long history, including many instances in the Bible. Lotteries have also been used to distribute goods and property, and as a way to raise funds for municipal repairs in Rome. The modern public lottery is usually a joint venture between government and licensed promoters, with the prize money coming from proceeds of ticket sales. Privately-organized lotteries were common in the American colonies before the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin held one to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the war, and Thomas Jefferson was reportedly holding a lottery toward his death in 1826 in an effort to reduce his crushing debts.

State lotteries usually operate as conventional raffles, with the public purchasing tickets for a drawing at some future date and time. The prizes are often large sums of money and are predetermined, though some states have used different methods to determine the total value of the prize pool (e.g., subtracting profits for the promoter and costs of promotions from the total).

State officials have promoted lottery games by stressing their value as a source of painless revenue. While they acknowledge that gambling can have a negative effect on people’s mental health, they insist that the vast majority of lottery players are able to control their behavior and do not suffer from serious problem gambling or gambling addiction. Moreover, they point out that the proceeds from lotteries have been beneficial to society as a whole, in part because they encourage charitable donations by the public.

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