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What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game where people pay for a ticket, select a group of numbers or have machines randomly spit out numbers and win prizes if enough of their numbers match those chosen by the machine. In the United States lotteries are run by state governments and are legal monopolies with no competition from private or commercial operators. The profits are used to fund state programs. Some states also offer additional games such as keno and video poker, which can generate more income than the traditional lottery.

Most states have some form of lottery. The first step in establishing a lottery involves the legislature legislating a monopoly for the state; granting the monopoly to a public agency or corporation (as opposed to licensing a private company to operate the lottery for a fee); beginning operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and progressively expanding the scope of the lottery through adding new games and increasing the size of the jackpots and prize money. This evolution is a classic example of how state policy is developed piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview and the general public welfare being considered only intermittently.

A central argument used to promote lotteries is that players are voluntarily spending their money and therefore helping support a public good, such as education. But it is important to consider just how significant this revenue stream is in broader state budgets and whether the benefits that are cited are actually worth the cost of so many people losing money.