What is the Lottery?

The lottery, in its modern incarnation, is a form of gambling with prizes based on random chance. The prize money consists of some combination of cash and goods, the latter often having an unequal value. People play the lottery for a variety of reasons, from a desire to become rich to the desire to win something that might improve their lives. As a result, it has spread to most states and is a part of everyday life for many.

The basic requirements of a lottery are fairly straightforward: A method must be devised for recording the identities of bettor and the amounts staked. A percentage must be deducted for costs and profit to the state or sponsor. The remaining amount becomes the prize pool. Then, a drawing must be made to allocate the prizes among the winners. A bettor might write his name and amount on a ticket, deposit it for shuffling and selection in the drawing, or simply buy a numbered receipt in the hope that his number will be included among the winners.

Cohen argues that the modern lottery began in the Northeast, where politicians wanted to increase social safety-net programs without raising taxes on middle and working class voters. It accelerated in the nineteen-sixties, when inflation, population growth, and the cost of the Vietnam War caused budgetary crises for many states that could not be solved by raising taxes or cutting services. At that point, the lottery became a popular way to raise funds while satisfying voters’ antitax sensibilities.