Skip to content
Home » The History of the Lottery

The History of the Lottery

  • by

The practice of distributing property by lot has a long history, including several cases in the Bible. But it’s only in recent centuries that state governments have taken up the idea of running a lottery. In an anti-tax era, the primary argument for the adoption of lotteries by states has been their value as a source of “painless” revenue that people spend willingly (as opposed to being taxed).

Once a lottery is established, its operations follow a fairly predictable pattern. The state creates a monopoly; establishes a public corporation to run it, rather than licensing private firms in return for a portion of the profits; begins operation with a small number of games; and then expands its offerings in response to pressure to increase revenues. The expansion is usually in the form of new games, which are easier to market than existing ones.

Lottery players know that they’re not likely to win, but they still get some value from their tickets. The hope that they will, irrational and mathematically impossible as it is, provides an emotional outlet for people who don’t see much opportunity in the current economy.

In addition to the entertainment value, playing the lottery also teaches people some important lessons about risk-taking. It’s an exercise in the importance of diversifying your investments and building a cushion for emergencies. And it’s a reminder of how hard it is to attain real wealth, especially in a short period of time.