Lottery is a game of chance in which winners are selected by a random drawing. Many people play Lottery in order to win a prize, such as money or goods. In the United States, most state governments offer Lottery games to raise funds for public services. Advocates say that Lottery benefits the public good, because it can help states finance critical programs without raising taxes. However, critics argue that Lottery profits benefit mainly wealthier players and put poorer members of society at a disadvantage.
In the 15th century, people in the Low Countries began holding public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. By the 17th century, public lotteries were common throughout the English colonies and helped to build Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and other American colleges. In the 18th century, Congress tried to use a lottery to fund the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, but failed.
While some critics have argued that Lottery is just another form of gambling, proponents argue that it helps many people who would otherwise have difficulty paying for education or other social services. They also point out that the money raised by Lottery is a “voluntary tax” that people choose to pay rather than forcing them to increase their income taxes or cut back on other essential government spending.
State lotteries have gained broad support, especially in times of economic stress, when the government can rely on Lottery revenues to avoid cutting back on vital services. However, the evolution of state lotteries is a classic case of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally with little or no overall oversight, so that the welfare of the general population is often overlooked.