What is a Lottery?

In a lottery, prizes are allocated by a process that relies entirely on chance. This might be done by drawing lots to determine ownership or other rights, as has been recorded in a number of ancient documents (including the Bible), or by drawing numbers in the case of a public lottery. The latter approach has been most prominent in the United States, which first centralized its lottery operation in 1612 and subsequently made it one of its most important sources of revenue for towns, wars, colleges, and other projects.

In the early 1960s, when states were attempting to expand their array of services without dramatically increasing taxes on middle-class and working-class families, many politicians saw lotteries as a way to get money for public projects by allowing players to voluntarily spend their own money. Lotteries were initially popular in the Northeast, where residents were familiar with gambling activities and where there was a strong sense of tradition associated with the practice.

But despite the traditional associations with the lottery, modern lotteries are really just another form of gambling. And as such, they rely on the same basic marketing strategies as other forms of gambling: advertising that promises to bring the winning ticket-holder huge wealth in exchange for a small investment, and encouraging consumers to play by promoting high jackpot prizes. Because they are run as businesses, state lotteries must also make decisions about how to promote their games and which groups of people to target with advertising.