What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance in which tickets are sold and prizes awarded to holders of numbers drawn at random; commonly, a state lottery that raises funds for public purposes. Almost all state lotteries have the same basic structure: they are government monopolies that do not allow private competitors, and the profits are used to fund public programs. In the United States, where the modern era of lotteries began with New Hampshire’s in 1964, there are now 37 state lotteries and a federal program.

In the immediate post-World War II period, the states that adopted lotteries saw them as a way of funding public projects without imposing heavy burdens on middle and working class taxpayers. Many people, particularly in the Northeast, were accustomed to gambling activities and seemed willing to support the lottery.

Once established, however, controversy quickly shifted to the specific features of lottery operations, including whether they promoted addictive gambling habits and served as a regressive tax on lower-income groups. In addition, critics complained that the lottery conflicted with states’ traditional role as protectors of the public welfare.

Since lotteries run as businesses that seek to maximize revenues, their advertising focuses on persuading the target audience to spend money on tickets. As a result, they tend to appeal to a player base that is disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. This player base is also a significant source of revenue for lottery suppliers, who frequently make substantial contributions to state political campaigns.