In the United States, lotteries are government-sponsored games of chance in which people win money or prizes by matching a series of numbers. A state may hold a lottery with a single drawing or multiple drawings and may choose to offer different types of tickets. Each state sets its own laws and regulations for lotteries, but most delegate the administrative work to a special state lottery division. This organization selects and trains retailers to use lottery terminals, sells tickets and redeems winning tickets, promotes the lottery through television and radio commercials, pays top-tier prizes, and ensures that retailers and players comply with state law and rules. Each state also has its own rules for determining how much a player must pay to participate in a lottery and the minimum prize payouts.
In its early years, the lottery was a popular way for states to raise revenue without raising taxes. During the Revolutionary War, for instance, the Continental Congress established a lottery to help fund the war effort. Other public lotteries were used to establish churches and other private institutions, including some of the nation’s first colleges like Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, and King’s College (now Columbia). In addition, private organizations were known for holding lotteries as a way to get people to buy products or services that would otherwise be difficult to market.
Despite their popularity, lotteries have always been controversial. Those who oppose them argue that they are immoral and encourage gambling addiction. They also contend that state governments do not need to raise money through the lottery and that other sources of funding, such as general revenues and fees, are more ethical. The latter concern is especially common among devout Protestants, who consider government-sanctioned lotteries to be morally unconscionable. As a result, the lottery became a kind of budgetary miracle for politicians who needed new revenue and did not want to face the possibility of a tax increase.
In the late twentieth century, however, a tide of antitax fervor swept across America. This movement culminated in California’s Proposition 13, which lowered property taxes by nearly sixty percent and spurred other states to follow suit, thereby cutting the flow of federal dollars to many state programs. Lotteries, once considered a morally reprehensible form of funding public service, suddenly appeared to be the perfect alternative: They allowed states to raise hundreds of millions of dollars without the risk of being punished at the polls for raising taxes. This newfound appeal drew in people from all walks of life, including politicians who had previously dismissed the idea of state-sanctioned lotteries as inappropriate for the honorable business of public service. As a result, lottery games have become a major source of state revenues, and their popularity continues to grow.