The History of the Lottery


The casting of lots to determine rights and fortunes has a long record in human history. It appears in ancient documents, including the Bible. Lotteries became a popular pastime in the Roman Empire (Nero was a fan) and are still widespread today. In modern times, they are used to raise money for a variety of purposes, from naming mayors and city council members to funding universities, wars, and public-works projects. In the United States, the first state-sponsored lottery was launched in New Hampshire in 1964. Since then, more than seventy-five government and private lotteries operate worldwide. In 2003, they reportedly generated more than $70 billion in sales.

Lottery live draw hk advocates, according to Cohen, began to promote the game as a kind of “budgetary miracle.” With no appetite for raising taxes and facing a public outrage at even the suggestion of cutting services, politicians turned to the lottery as an easy solution to a difficult problem. They argued that it would provide the state with millions of dollars in revenue without costing anything to the general population, and that voters would support its operation because it offered them a chance to win unimaginable wealth for a low price.

In order to sustain their claims about the lottery’s financial benefits, advocates also sought to defuse ethical objections that were longstanding and widespread. They asserted that because people were going to gamble anyway, the government might as well collect some of their money and pocket it for itself. This argument was not without limits, of course, but it provided a way to sidestep long-held ethical concerns about gambling and the state’s involvement in it.

The popularity of the lottery grew steadily throughout the nineteen-sixties and into the nineteen-eighties as America’s prosperity waned, income disparity widened, job security and pensions shrank, health care costs rose, and many children grew up to discover that their parents’ long-held promise that education and hard work would guarantee them a better life than the one they were living largely did not come true. State budgets grew increasingly unsustainable, and politicians could not find a way to balance them without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were highly unpopular with voters.

The lottery was the savior that allowed governments to avoid both of these unpleasant options, and the odds of winning got worse as jackpots became bigger. The logic, at least among those who knew how to calculate the math, was counterintuitive: the more impossible it became for a ticket to win, the more people wanted to buy one. Eventually, lottery organizers began to lift prize caps and add more numbers, making the odds of winning ever smaller and the jackpots correspondingly bigger. In some cases, winners won tens of millions of dollars, which was more than they paid for the ticket. As a result, the percentage of the total pot that went to prize winners increased as well. Retailers and other lottery suppliers quickly adapted to this new dynamic, and their profits soared.