What is a Lottery?


A gambling game in which tickets are sold for a chance to win money or other prizes by matching numbers drawn at random. A lottery may be organized by a government or by private entities. Prizes can be cash, goods, or services, such as housing units or kindergarten placements. Most lotteries require players to pay a small fee, called a ticket or stake, to enter the contest. The amount of the prize is usually smaller than the sum paid to buy a ticket. In the United States, state-run lotteries are common.

Cohen’s article traces the modern lottery back to a time when rising taxes, increasing inflation, and growing war costs made it difficult for states to balance their budgets without hiking taxes or cutting services, both of which would be unpopular with voters. In this environment, the lottery became a sort of budgetary miracle that enabled states to raise massive sums of money seemingly out of thin air.

Lotteries appeal to people who tend to covet money and the things it can buy. They are lured into the games with promises that their lives will be better if they can just hit it big. Lottery officials are aware of this tendency, and they use every tool in their arsenal to keep people buying tickets, including slick advertising campaigns and clever math on the front of the tickets. The lottery is not dissimilar to the strategies used by video-game makers and cigarette companies.