A lottery is an arrangement that distributes prizes by a process that depends on chance. In the most common form, participants pay a small amount of money for a chance to win a much larger sum. The money is used to pay for prizes or for the costs of organizing and promoting the lottery, and a percentage of the pool goes to profit and taxes. The rest is available to winners.
A large lottery requires significant organizational and financial resources, and a government often establishes a monopoly to run it, or contracts with a private firm to do so in return for a portion of the proceeds. The resulting operation usually starts with a small number of simple games, but the constant pressure to increase revenues leads to an expansion of its scope and complexity.
Although the casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history, the use of lotteries for material gain is more recent. In the 17th century, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons for Philadelphia’s defense against the British, and many colonial settlers participated in lotteries to finance public projects such as roads, canals, libraries, churches, colleges, and military expeditions.
In the post-World War II period, state legislators promoted lotteries as a source of “painless” revenue, arguing that it would enable them to expand their array of services without increasing onerous taxes on middle- and working-class families. This strategy was popular with voters and favored by politicians who viewed it as a way to get taxpayers to voluntarily spend their own money for the benefit of society.