The History of the Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling in which tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize. The prizes may be cash or goods. It is a popular way to raise money for many different causes. Lottery critics argue that it diverts appropriations from programs like education and does not improve them. In addition, they point out that even when the state legislature does “earmark” lottery proceeds for a particular program, it simply reduces by the same amount the appropriations it would otherwise have to allot to the program from its general fund. The resulting increase in the total discretionary funds available to the legislature may well be the main reason why lotteries gain broad public approval, regardless of the state’s objective fiscal health.

The first European lotteries in the modern sense of the word were organized in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders by towns trying to raise money to fortify defenses and aid the poor, and by Francis I of France, who permitted them to be run for private profit in cities. But it was not until the 18th century that state-run lotteries gained widespread popularity, financed roads, libraries, churches, canals, and bridges and helped fund the foundation of Princeton and Columbia Universities, and Benjamin Franklin’s battery of guns for Philadelphia’s defence.

State lotteries typically legislate a monopoly for themselves, establish a state agency or public corporation to run them (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of the profits) and start with a modest number of relatively simple games. Revenues typically expand dramatically at the beginning, then level off and begin to decline. This has prompted the introduction of new games to maintain or increase revenues.

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