The Growing Popularity of the Lottery

The lottery is an increasingly popular means of raising money for a wide variety of purposes. Its popularity stems in part from its widespread appeal as a game of chance, but it also reflects the fact that the proceeds are devoted exclusively to charity, as opposed to the conventional methods of government borrowing and taxation.

Although the practice of determining fates and property distribution by lot has long history (including several instances in the Bible), the first public lotteries to distribute prize money for material gain were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Town records in Bruges, Ghent, and other cities reveal that they were used to raise funds for wall construction and town fortifications, as well as to help the poor.

State lotteries have evolved along relatively similar lines since their inception: a state legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a publicly owned, run, and controlled agency to manage the lottery, rather than licensing a private firm to do so in return for a share of profits; begins operations with a small number of games; and, as revenue pressures mount, progressively expands the number and complexity of its offerings.

The enormous jackpots of modern lottery games, often advertised as “millionaires’ row,” are another major factor in their widespread popularity. These gargantuan jackpots not only attract attention and players, but also earn the lotteries a windfall of free publicity on news sites and television broadcasts. Studies, however, suggest that the success of a lottery does not depend much on a state’s actual financial circumstances; indeed, lotteries tend to win broad public approval even when a state is not facing fiscal stress.