The History of the Lottery

A lottery is a form of gambling in which people buy tickets with numbered entries. The winnings depend entirely on chance. Its name is derived from the Dutch word for fate or fortune. The casting of lots for decisions and fates has a long history, including several instances in the Bible, but the organization of public lotteries to distribute prize money is only about 300 years old.

State lotteries typically begin operations with a small number of relatively simple games. Then, under the pressure of constant demand for additional revenues, they progressively expand their offering of games. In the process, they often sacrifice the quality and integrity of those they already have.

Critics of the lottery argue that, because the industry is run as a business with the objective of maximizing revenue, it promotes a form of gambling that has many negative consequences for the poor and problem gamblers and that runs at cross-purposes with public policy. They also assert that the lottery is inherently unfair, because it does not provide the public with accurate information about the odds of winning.

The emergence of the lottery in America began with the Continental Congress’s vote to establish it for raising funds to support the Revolution. Later, privately organized lotteries were common in the United States to sell products or properties and to raise money for a variety of purposes, such as building American colleges (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, King’s College, etc.).