A form of gambling in which tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize through random selection. It is usually conducted by a government for the purpose of raising funds, but may also be run privately. The practice of determining fates or the distribution of property by lot has a long history (see lot).
State governments promote lotteries as a source of “painless” revenue, arguing that players are voluntarily spending their money on a product that benefits the public. This argument is especially effective when state budgets are in stress, and voters fear tax increases or cuts to public programs. But it is also true that lotteries have won broad approval even when the states’ fiscal conditions are good.
The growth of lottery revenues has encouraged expansion into new types of games, such as keno and video poker, and increased advertising. The latter often centers on super-sized jackpots, which attract attention by growing to apparently newsworthy amounts and by earning free publicity on newscasts and web sites. The popularity of these games, however, has raised concerns about compulsive gamblers and the regressive impact on low-income groups.
It is difficult to determine the extent of these problems, because lottery advertising necessarily seeks to persuade people to spend their hard-earned money on a risky endeavor. As such, it is at cross-purposes with the legitimate public interest in limiting the harmful effects of gambling and raising funds for a wide range of social services.