The History of the Lottery

A lottery is a game of chance in which people buy tickets in order to win a prize. The prizes can range from cash to goods or services. Many states hold lotteries. The games are regulated by law. Usually, a state agency or public corporation runs the lottery. Some states also organize private lotteries. Private lotteries are run by organizations like churches or businesses. The first public lotteries were organized in the 17th century to fund projects. Benjamin Franklin ran one to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution. George Washington ran a lottery to build a road in Virginia over a mountain pass.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, people largely played the lottery to make money. But the 21st century has seen an expansion of lottery games to appeal to a broad range of interests. Today, almost 50 percent of Americans play the lottery at least once a year.

The history of lotteries has been a tale of growth and decline, often in parallel with society’s attitudes toward gambling. The defining features of a modern state lottery include a legal monopoly; a central authority for running the lottery; a system of distribution that is largely decentralized and based on retail outlets; a high-tier prize program; and an emphasis on advertising. Most states now have a lottery division that selects retailers, trains them to sell and redeem tickets, distributes high-tier prizes, and promotes the lottery. Because the lottery is run as a business, with an eye to maximizing revenues, it is frequently at cross-purposes with the general public welfare.