History of the Lottery


Lottery is a game of chance that gives players the chance to win cash or prizes. The odds of winning are very low, but the jackpots can be enormous. Many states run their own lottery, while others contract with private companies to conduct the games. Some states also provide a central office to select and train lottery retailers, oversee promotional campaigns, and administer the games themselves.

Despite the huge jackpots, which draw the attention of news outlets and public fascination, most of the money that goes through lotteries does not go to prize winners. Instead, it gets sucked up in commissions for the lottery retailers and the overhead of the lottery system itself. Some of the remaining funds get distributed to charity and gambling addiction initiatives.

The first recorded lotteries were held in the fourteen-hundreds to raise money to build town fortifications and to aid the poor. By the seventeenth century, they had spread across Europe. They had a reputation as an excellent way to raise public funds without raising taxes or cutting social programs.

Cohen takes the reader through the history of the modern lottery, showing how a growing awareness of the profits to be made in this game, combined with a decline in American prosperity in the nineteen-sixties, changed the rules for how people viewed gambling. As income gaps widened and inflation and health-care costs rose, the long-held national promise that hard work and education would allow each generation to live better than their parents lost its allure.