The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a state-run game that awards prizes according to random drawing of numbers. Prizes may be cash or goods. A governmental lottery is often a source of revenue for public services, though it also has critics. Lottery opponents question whether replacing taxes with gambling is ethical, and how much money states really stand to gain. Among them are devout Protestants, who believe that government-sanctioned gambling is morally unconscionable. (In the late-twentieth century, they were joined by people who objected to the fact that bingo games hosted by Catholic high schools brought in more money than the state lottery.)

In the United States, state lotteries are independent and don’t operate as a national organization. They offer a wide range of games, from instant scratch-offs to Powerball jackpot drawings. Critics say that they’re regressive, and cause low-income Americans to spend more of their budgets on the tickets. The games also tend to be promoted by the lottery companies in ways that attract black and brown people.

The word “lottery” derives from Italian lottera, whose roots lie in the Middle Dutch hlot (“lot, portion”) and Old English lott (“bet”). The first state-sponsored lotteries appeared in the fourteenth century in Europe, and by the fifteenth century had spread to America. The earliest American lotteries were largely run by towns, which used the proceeds to finance civic projects. The term spread to the colonies, where they were a useful way for settlers to raise funds without violating Protestant proscriptions against dice and card games.