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What is a Lottery?

Lottery is any competition in which a prize — money, property, or services — is awarded through random selection from among entrants who pay to participate. The term also can be applied to sports contests, such as basketball tournaments and baseball drafts, or to academic and other competitions whose outcomes depend on chance, including student-teacher pairings.

State governments have long organized lotteries to raise revenue for public purposes. Lotteries grew in popularity during the immediate post-World War II period, when many states were experiencing deficits and hoped to expand their range of services without imposing onerous taxes on middle-class and working class residents. The establishment of a lottery involves several steps. A state first legislates a monopoly for itself (as opposed to licensing private firms in return for a portion of the proceeds); establishes a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery; begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, as pressure to increase revenues grows, progressively increases both the complexity and the scope of the lottery.

Lottery marketing campaigns emphasize two messages primarily. One is that people simply like to gamble, and the other is that a lottery is a good way for them to do so. This message ignores the regressive nature of lottery gambling and the fact that most lottery players are not casual players, but rather committed gamblers who spend significant portions of their incomes on tickets. It also obscures the fact that lottery play declines with education and wealth, and that men play more frequently than women and blacks and Hispanics.