How the Lottery Works



Whether it’s the Powerball or your local scratch-off game, millions of Americans dream about winning the lottery and buying that luxury home, world trip, or paying off all their debts. But while winning the lottery is certainly a dream come true, it’s not something that happens for everyone. In fact, for many people who play the lottery regularly, it is a very expensive hobby that is costing them big money in the long run.

This phenomenon has become so pervasive, in fact, that many state governments are now pushing to limit new ways for people to play the lottery. But before we get to that point, we need to understand how the lottery works and what goes on behind the scenes.

The roots of the lottery go back centuries, with a number of cultures using it as a way to distribute property and even slaves. But the modern version of the game was invented in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding.

Rather than trying to sell the lottery as a statewide silver bullet, as had been the case in the fourteen-hundreds, advocates now argued that it could cover a specific line item—usually education but sometimes public parks or aid for veterans. This approach insulated lotteries from the objection that they were simply state-sponsored gambling and allowed them to win the support of white voters who believed that their winning tickets would help pay for services they didn’t want to see cut.

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