History of Lottery in the United States

Lottery is gambling, and like other forms of gambling, the odds vary wildly. The prize amounts and prices vary as well. The number of people playing and the frequency with which tickets are purchased also affects the odds, as do promotional efforts that increase expected value.

Lotteries have a long history in the United States. The Continental Congress held a lottery in 1776 to help fund the Revolutionary War; Alexander Hamilton wrote that it was “a form of ‘voluntary taxation,’ as people willingly spend their trifling sums for the hope of considerable gain.” State governments have likewise adopted lotteries to raise money for various projects. They typically begin with a small number of simple games, and their revenues quickly expand. They then face constant pressure to increase revenues, and they progressively introduce new games to do so.

Many states, including all but two, now offer regular state-sponsored lotteries, which usually involve drawing numbers from a fixed range of one to fifty. In addition, there are several privately run lotteries. The name of the game, which dates to the early 15th century, is derived from Middle Dutch loterie and may be a calque on the Old English word lothre “action of drawing lots.”

While critics have focused on lottery problems such as compulsive gambling, research shows that there is no significant relationship between state government financial health and whether or when it adopts a lottery. Indeed, lotteries are popular even when the state’s finances are sound. The fact that state lotteries are seen as a way to avoid raising taxes is likely an important reason why they enjoy broad public support.