What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by lot or chance; especially, a gaming scheme in which one or more tickets bearing particular numbers draw prizes, while the rest are blanks. From Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

It’s easy to think that those who play the lottery are irrational dupes who don’t know any better and don’t understand the odds of winning. But the truth is that many of them are clear-eyed gamblers who make a conscious decision to spend $50, $100 a week for the slim hope that they will be lucky enough to win.

In fact, it turns out that lotteries can be very profitable for states, even though only a small percentage of people will actually win the prize money. The reason is that, after paying out the prize money and covering operating and advertising costs, states can keep most of the remaining money.

Whether that money is used to help people out of a bind or just to fund other state programs, it’s a significant sum. In the past, state leaders saw lotteries as a way to expand social safety nets without raising especially onerous taxes on middle- and working-class families.

But that arrangement started to unravel after the 1960s, and now state governments depend heavily on lottery revenues. And a lot of those ticket buyers are lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. They play the lottery because, as far as they are concerned, it’s their only shot at a better life.