The official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by lot or by chance. The term is also applied to commercial promotions in which the right to buy products or services is awarded by drawing numbers or names from a pool.
State lotteries are a booming business, with Americans spending an estimated $100 billion per year on tickets. But they have a complicated history, both as public games and private businesses. The founders of America ran several lottery-like games, including Benjamin Franklin’s in 1748 to help fund ships to the Jamestown colony and John Hancock’s to help build Boston’s Faneuil Hall. But many Puritans, who regarded gambling as a sin and “a door and window to worse vices,” opposed government-sanctioned lotteries.
Lottery opponents hailed from all walks of life and political affiliations, but were particularly fervent in their denial that governments stood to gain much from such schemes. They argued that state lotteries were regressive and took large sums from those who could least afford to gamble.
Advocates of the lottery shifted strategy in response to this opposition. Instead of arguing that lotteries would float a state’s entire budget, they began to emphasize the specific service a lottery would support, usually education but occasionally elder care, parks, or aid for veterans. In addition, they promoted the idea that buying a ticket was a civic duty and a way for people to help their neighbors and their children.