What is the Lottery?


Lottery is a competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes (usually money) are awarded to ticket holders, often as a way of raising funds for state or national causes. It is also used as a form of recreational betting.

The first lottery to sell tickets with cash prizes was probably in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Records of lotteries from the cities of Ghent, Bruges, and Utrecht show that towns held them to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor.

When a jackpot grows to ten figures, lottery sales skyrocket. Rich people buy far more tickets than the poor, but their purchases represent a much smaller percentage of their incomes; the typical asset manager, for instance, spends one per cent of his or her annual salary on lottery tickets. That makes the odds of winning appear a lot better.

In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the lottery became the nation’s obsession, Cohen writes, coinciding with a collapse in financial security for working people. The gap between the rich and the poor widened, wages stagnated, health-care costs rose, and the long-standing national promise that hard work and education would make children better off than their parents ceased to hold up.

The lottery has a huge overhead cost for all the workers who design scratch-off games, record live drawing events, keep websites up to date, and help winners. A portion of each ticket purchase goes towards these workers and administrative costs.