The Ugly Underbelly of Lottery

Lottery is a game where players pay money to enter a drawing for a prize. If their numbers match the numbers drawn, they win the prize. Some people like to choose their own numbers; others prefer to use “quick pick” and let a machine select the numbers for them. The more numbers that match the numbers drawn, the larger the winnings.

The history of lottery dates back to ancient times. Moses had his people take a census and distribute land by lot, and Roman emperors used lotteries as entertainment during Saturnalian feasts. Lotteries in colonial America were instrumental in financing the settlement of the colonies and public projects such as paving streets, building churches and schools, constructing wharves, and supplying a battery of guns for defending Philadelphia.

In modern times, lotteries are primarily government-sponsored and regulated, and their revenues are used for a variety of state purposes, including education, public works, and medical research. They have broad popular support, and a large percentage of adults play at least once a year.

But there’s also an ugly underbelly: when jackpots reach millions or even billions, it sets off a fever that can obscure the regressivity of lottery revenue and the fact that it isn’t a painless way to raise taxes. Especially when the odds of winning are so long. That’s why it’s important to set a budget for how much you will spend on lottery tickets and stick to it.