What Makes a Lottery So Appealing?


A lottery is a form of gambling in which tickets are sold for a chance to win prizes. Financial lotteries are run by governments and are a popular way to raise money for state or national projects. This article explores what makes lotteries so appealing and why states choose to run them.

The concept of a lottery has a long history in human culture. The casting of lots to determine fate has been a widespread practice since ancient times and is mentioned several times in the Bible. The first lottery to distribute prizes in exchange for tickets is documented in the 15th century, with public lotteries held in towns throughout the Low Countries to raise funds for town fortifications and help the poor.

Lotteries have broad and growing public support, with about 60% of adults reporting that they play. Besides drawing on the inextricable human impulse to gamble, lotteries also appeal to specific constituencies such as convenience store owners (who sell the tickets); suppliers of the goods and services used by lotteries (heavy contributions from these entities to state political campaigns are reported regularly); teachers (in those states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education), etc.

Lotteries are promoted by messages that focus on the benefits they provide for state government, including the specific benefit of the money raised. While this argument is effective at winning and retaining public approval, it seems to run at cross-purposes with the larger public interest.