The Evolution of the Lottery

Lottery is a form of gambling where paying participants pay for a chance to win a prize. It can take many forms: for example, it may be used to determine units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. It also can be used for commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure or to select jury members. Most state governments now run lotteries.

Lotteries are popular with consumers and state governments, which benefit from their comparatively painless taxes. In fact, it is common for states to become heavily dependent on lottery revenues in a relatively short period of time. This dependency is made even worse by the fact that there is pressure to continually increase the size of lottery games.

The major message that lotteries rely on is the notion that playing them is fun. This coded message obscures the regressivity of lottery play. It also obscures how much people spend on tickets and the fact that it is often an addictive form of gambling.

In general, the evolution of a lottery follows a similar pattern: The state legislates a monopoly for itself; it establishes a government agency or public corporation to manage the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm); it begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, under pressure to boost revenues, progressively expands its offerings. The result is a lottery industry with a tendency to favor high-ticket, low-margin games over those that attract lower-income players.