The History of the Lottery


Lottery is a game in which prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance. Therefore it cannot reasonably be expected to prevent a significant proportion of people who wish to participate in the arrangement from doing so.

For many Americans, the lottery is a form of entertainment. In fact, Americans spend over $80 billion per year on lotteries. The chances of winning the lottery are quite low, but many people believe that they will be the next big winner. This is a dangerous mindset because it can cause you to spend more money than you have.

In colonial America, lotteries were common and played a major role in funding both public and private ventures. They were used to finance roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, and bridges. In addition, they helped fund the French and Indian Wars, as well as local militias. The foundation of both Princeton and Columbia Universities was financed by a lottery. In addition, lotteries were frequently tangled up in the slave trade. George Washington managed a lottery whose prize included human beings, and one of the winners of a South Carolina lottery was a formerly enslaved man who went on to foment slave rebellions.

Supporters of the modern lottery claim that it is a way for states to expand their social safety nets without burdening middle class and working-class taxpayers with higher taxes. But that argument overlooks the fact that most state-run lotteries bring in only about two percent of total state revenue, which is not nearly enough to offset reductions in tax rates or significantly boost government expenditures.