Making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long record in human history, starting with the Old Testament’s instruction to Moses to take a census of the people and divide their land by lot. Roman emperors also used lotteries to give away property and slaves during Saturnalian feasts and other entertainments. The first state-run lotteries were introduced in the United States after the Revolutionary War as a way of raising money for various public projects. Today, state lotteries remain a popular form of gambling and raise billions in revenue each year. But critics argue that lotteries promote addictive gambling behavior, exacerbate poverty, and contribute to other abuses. They point to studies that show lottery revenues are regressive, and accuse the state of working at cross-purposes with its duty to protect the general welfare.
Many people who play the lottery do so in the clear knowledge that they are not going to win. And yet, they feel that there is some small sliver of hope that they will be one of the lucky few who will get rich quick. The lottery’s advertising campaign is designed to appeal to this inexplicable but enduring human impulse.
The basic argument made in favor of state lotteries is that they provide a painless source of revenue, whereby players are voluntarily spending their own money to help the state. This is contrasted with traditional taxes, which are perceived as punitive to lower-income groups and the middle class.