The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Lotteries can take many forms, from scratch cards to games of chance such as keno. Some state governments have their own lotteries while others contract with private companies to run them. Regardless of the type of lottery, most operate according to similar principles.

Governments have used lotteries since ancient times. During the Chinese Han dynasty (205–187 BC) and in the Roman Empire, the distribution of land and other goods was often determined by lottery. Lottery games were also popular as entertainment for guests at dinner parties, with participants marking bits of wood or paper with symbols and drawing them to determine the winner.

Since New Hampshire began the modern era of state lotteries in 1964, they have generally followed the same path: the state legislates a monopoly for itself; selects a public corporation to administer the lottery, as opposed to licensing a private firm for a fee; begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressures for more revenue, progressively expands the lottery in size and complexity by adding new games and increasing promotions.

Lotteries are popular for two reasons: They rely on the message that people love to gamble, and they promise large jackpots in an era of inequality and limited social mobility. However, the underlying logic of state-sponsored lotteries is flawed. It rests on the idea that gambling is inevitable, and states might as well offer these games to make money.

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