Lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people buy tickets and hope to win big prizes. The prizes can be anything from cash to goods and services. People spent over $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021. State governments promote the lottery as a way to generate revenue that doesn’t increase taxes on the poor or middle class. But this narrative obscures how much the lottery costs people and how much the chances of winning are stacked against them.
The word “lottery” is first recorded in English in the 15th century, though it may be a calque from Dutch lotinge or Middle French loterie. The earliest known European lotteries were held during the Roman Empire as a means of raising money for repairs to city walls and other infrastructure. The early modern period was one of growth for states and they seized upon the lottery as a way to expand their array of services without imposing heavy taxes on the working class.
State governments promote the lottery as a way of funding everything from education to health care and infrastructure. But the reality is that it’s a regressive tax that has shifted wealth from the middle and lower classes to the rich. It also encourages irresponsible spending, and there are numerous cases of winners blowing their entire jackpots in a short period of time and then falling back into poverty. This is called the lottery curse and it’s a real phenomenon that has to be addressed.