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Historically, lotteries were used to raise money for public works. The Continental Congress tried to run a lottery to fund the Revolutionary War, and smaller public lotteries were common in the United States. Privately organized lotteries were also popular, and a number of American colleges (including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College, and William and Mary) were financed by lottery proceeds.
In the modern era, state governments began establishing lotteries. Unlike today, the lotteries of the past were not regulated by any central authority, and their results could be rigged. But with the advent of computerized drawing, these concerns have faded.
A lottery is defined as a random selection of persons or items for a prize. The term “lottery” is also applied to other activities such as military conscription, commercial promotions in which property or services are given away randomly, and jury selection.
In the United States, there are 48 state lotteries. Each is operated independently of other jurisdictions, though consortiums of state lotteries often organize games with larger geographical footprints to create larger jackpots. Since 1964, state lotteries have raised nearly $502 billion. But that amount is a drop in the bucket when it comes to overall state revenues and expenditures. It is, moreover, a regressive tax that disproportionately burdens poorer residents.