The Official Lottery

The official lottery is the name given to a government-run game of chance in which people purchase tickets for a prize of money or goods. The prizes can be a lump sum, or a fixed percentage of ticket receipts. The latter type of lottery has gained popularity, since the organizers are less at risk than in a lump-sum contest.

Lottery sales tend to rise during tough economic times, says economist Nathaniel Just. The reason, he says, is that poorer people are more likely to buy into the fantasy that they can change their circumstances. Lottery advertising is particularly effective in luring those who live in racially concentrated poverty neighborhoods.

Despite Puritan opposition to gambling, the lottery started to gain popularity in America from the early 1700s. But it was not until the 1800s that public distaste and concern about crookedness finally brought it to an end. In this era, states were plagued by a host of corrupt lottery operators, including Denmark Vesey, who won a Charleston lottery and used the prize to fund a slave rebellion.

By the nineteenth century, most American states had banned the practice, except for New York and Missouri. The federal government finally stopped state lotteries in 1890, banning the interstate sale of tickets and thereby eliminating the Louisiana State Lottery Company.

The lottery has since come back in a more regulated form, with a host of different formats. It is now an enormous industry that raises billions of dollars for education and other causes. In recent years, the trend has been toward multi-state games that span larger geographical footprints and offer higher jackpots.