Lottery is a common form of gambling in which numbers are drawn and prizes are awarded. In 2021, Americans spent over $100 billion on lottery tickets. Despite its popularity, the actual odds of winning are quite low. But that doesn’t stop many people from believing that the lottery is their only way to a better life, and they spend big money on the tickets.

In colonial-era America, lotteries were used to fund a variety of projects, from paving streets and building wharves to constructing Harvard and Yale buildings. Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British, but his effort failed.

Today, state-sponsored lotteries operate worldwide. They usually have three requirements: (1) a prize pool to award to winners; (2) a mechanism for selecting the winning numbers (usually a computerized system); and (3) rules for when and how often prizes are drawn. Some prizes are set at apparently newsworthy amounts, which stimulate ticket sales; others are transferred to the next drawing and subsequently increased (called jackpot or rollover), making very substantial sums available.

Once established, most state lotteries are governed by state law and run as a public service corporation with an emphasis on maximizing revenues. They rely on advertising to persuade target groups to spend their money. But does promoting gambling serve the public interest, especially when it can have negative consequences for the poor and those with serious problems?