The Official Lottery

Official lottery is the term given to a type of gambling in which tickets are sold for a prize. Unlike most modern games of chance, such as the stock market, which also relies on luck, a true lottery involves paying a consideration for a chance to win a prize. In modern usage, the term is most often used for state-run games that use numbers to determine the winner of a prize fund (often cash) and may be combined with a sales tax.

Lotteries are popular in the United States and elsewhere, but their origins are often obscure. Lotteries were first introduced in Europe, where they were often financed by taxes on tobacco and other goods. By the 17th century, they were widely accepted as a painless form of public finance and were used to raise funds for everything from the poor to wars.

In America, Cohen writes, state governments’ need for revenue eventually prompted them to adopt the lottery. But the era of crookedness and fraud was so widespread that by 1860, most states banned lotteries. The only exception was the Louisiana State Lottery Company, which operated with a federal charter and a reputation for efficiency that allowed it to operate across state lines, advertising nationally and sending winning tickets by mail.

Lottery ads today still feature the promise of instant riches, and they are effective in driving ticket sales. People plainly like to gamble. And for many, particularly those who don’t have much power in the economy and are at the mercy of discrimination, it’s a way to believe that they’re going to get rich soon.