A lottery is a game in which prizes are awarded to participants through a process that relies on chance. Normally a large percentage of the prize pool goes toward costs and profits for the organizers, with the remaining funds distributed to winners. A lottery is generally considered to be an acceptable form of gambling, and it is often used as a means of raising public money in places where traditional forms of taxation would be deemed unfair or unpopular.

In the immediate post-World War II period, lottery sales were seen as a way to expand state services without burdening middle and working classes with onerous taxes. But that arrangement has now essentially crumbled. Lottery revenue has been a major contributor to the growing inequality in America, and it’s time to look at why.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who play the lottery, and they defy the expectations you might have going into such conversations: They’re irrational gamblers, they don’t know how odds work, they spend $50 or $100 a week on tickets. They do, however, have a clear-eyed understanding that the odds are long, and that for many of them winning the lottery is their best or only shot at rewriting their life story.

There are two main types of lottery: financial and sports. The former involves paying for a ticket to enter a drawing with cash or other prizes, and the latter is based on picking teams in a draft-like procedure.