The History of the Lottery

Throughout history, people have sought out ways to determine everything from property distributions among family members to who will win the lottery. Today, Americans spend over $80 Billion a year on tickets. It’s a lot of money! It could be used to build an emergency fund, pay off credit card debt, or invest in something that will increase their long-term financial security. Instead, we are spending it on a game that has a one in ten chance of winning and then paying huge taxes when we do.

The word lottery comes from the Latin “loterium” (“slip of fate”), which means the action of drawing lots or similar methods of distributing goods or services. The practice of holding such draws is as old as humanity itself: ancient Roman emperors gave away slaves and property through lotteries at dinner parties, while Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to raise funds for the construction of cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British.

State governments have long promoted lotteries as a way to generate revenue for programs that would otherwise be too expensive to fund. In the anti-tax era of the post-World War II period, many states saw lotteries as a way to expand their social safety nets without placing especially burdensome demands on middle and working class taxpayers. That arrangement, however, is beginning to crumble. Lotteries are now a significant part of state budgets, and pressures to increase the amounts that can be won are mounting.