The Essential Elements of a Lottery

Lotteries have a long history in human society. The casting of lots for determining fates and possessions is evident in many ancient sources, including the Bible. Lotteries in the modern sense of the term—public games that award money for a chance to win a prize determined by random drawing—began in the Low Countries in the 15th century, and are well documented in town records from Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges. These early lotteries raised funds for such purposes as building walls and town fortifications, town improvements, and aid to the poor.

A basic element of a lottery is that the prizes on offer are typically lower than the amount paid in by those who purchase tickets. This is why governments guard lotteries so jealously from private promoters, who can make enormous profits. A second essential element is a means of selecting winners, which must be completely random. Modern lotteries use computers to randomly select winners, but in earlier times this was done by hand.

Once established, state lotteries generally enjoy broad public support. This is especially true when proceeds are earmarked for a specific public good, such as education. It is interesting to note that, as Clotfelter and Cook point out, this support does not seem to depend on a state’s actual fiscal health: state lotteries have won popular approval even when the state is financially sound.

Once a lottery is in place, it may be necessary to introduce new games to maintain and increase revenues. This can involve adding new types of tickets or offering old ones in new ways. For example, scratch-off tickets are now popular and have added to the overall revenue pool. Some states have introduced Powerball, a multi-state game that offers large jackpots.

Similar Posts