What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a contest in which tokens are distributed or sold, with the winning token or tokens determined by chance. Lotteries may be used for a variety of purposes, from awarding military conscription assignments to public school classroom placements. Financial lotteries are the most common type, where participants pay a small sum for the chance to win a large prize. While lotteries have been criticized as addictive forms of gambling, their profits are used to fund government services.

In the immediate post-World War II period, state governments viewed lotteries as a means of raising revenue without imposing onerous taxes on middle and working class citizens. In many cases, they grew their array of public services while expanding their use of lotteries.

While these lotteries are popular, they also cause problems for the poor and problem gamblers. Because lotteries are run as business enterprises, they must focus on maximizing revenues through advertising. This necessarily entangles them in a world of false promises, and it raises questions about whether or not state lotteries serve the best interests of society.

As lotteries have grown in size and scope, debate and criticism have shifted from the general desirability of them to specific features of their operations. Increasingly, these criticisms have focused on the problems associated with compulsive gambling and the regressive impact of lotteries on lower-income people. Moreover, as the growth in lottery revenues has slowed, state lotteries have sought to increase their market share by adding new games and aggressively promoting them.