Lottery refers to games of chance in which tickets are sold for a prize that is drawn or selected at random. In modern times, public and private lottery-like activities include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property or services are given away in exchange for a purchase, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. Historically, state-sponsored lotteries have generally been seen as non-gambling forms of taxation and have enjoyed broad public approval. Lottery revenues have been used to support a variety of government projects, including building the Great Wall of China and many American colleges, such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), and William and Mary.
As states have embraced lotteries, the debate has moved from whether such activities are desirable to questions of specific state policy. Critics have focused on the potential for problem gambling and the regressive impact of lotteries on low-income neighborhoods. Lottery proponents have responded by insisting that the benefits outweigh the costs, even if some of these funds do make their way to compulsive gamblers and low-income communities.
Lottery proponents have also emphasized the specific public goods that are funded by the proceeds of the games. This approach plays well with the public, particularly in times of economic stress, when people may be tempted to think that lottery money is being spent for a “good” purpose such as education. However, studies show that the lottery’s popularity is not necessarily related to the actual fiscal conditions of the state and that lotteries have won broad public support even when states are in comparatively good financial shape.