Lottery As a Government Function

Lottery is the distribution of prizes by drawing lots for the purpose of raising money for a specified cause. It is an ancient practice, with some of its most well-known examples in the Bible. The first public lottery to offer prize money was held in the 15th century, primarily to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor in towns and cities like Bruges in Belgium.

Lotteries have been used to fund everything from municipal projects, including paving streets and building bridges, to educational institutions, such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and King’s College (now Columbia), to military expeditions, such as the 1777 Virginia colony lottery to finance the Revolutionary War. In the United States, state lotteries have a long history of wide popularity.

In modern times, public lotteries are a major source of revenue in many state budgets, with prizes typically awarded for matching combinations of numbers. Prizes may be a single large sum of money or several smaller amounts of money, or other goods and services. Historically, public lotteries have also been known as raffles or keno.

While it is true that people plain old like to gamble, and lotteries are designed to appeal to this human impulse, the question is whether running a lottery as a business geared toward maximizing revenues has the potential to create social problems such as poverty, addiction, etc. Lottery advertising necessarily focuses on persuading people to spend their money, and this can put the lottery at cross-purposes with other government functions.