A lottery is a game where prizes are allocated by a process that relies solely on chance. It also has a fixed prize pool, costs for organizing and running the game, and a profit share for the state or lottery operator. Typically, a percentage of the prize pool is deducted for taxes and other expenses before a winner’s amount is calculated. Those numbers are then used to select a winning ticket.

Lottery became popular in the United States in the nineteen-sixties, when a growing awareness of the potential profits to be made from gambling collided with a crisis in state budgets. Faced with rising inflation, soaring unemployment, and the cost of Vietnam, many states found themselves in fiscal trouble that they could not resolve by raising taxes or cutting programs.

As a result, they turned to the lottery for quick and painless revenues. The lottery has since become a major source of state revenue and a major cause of economic instability.

As the public grew more aware of all the money that can be won through the lottery, complaints began to mount about its effect on compulsive gamblers and its regressive impact on lower-income populations. But Cohen argues that these concerns miss the point. The lottery is a classic example of a government initiative that, once established, evolves at cross-purposes with the public interest. With control of a lottery often divided between the executive and legislative branches, policy decisions are made piecemeal.

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