History of the Lottery


The lottery is a game of chance in which people purchase tickets for a small sum of money, in order to win a much larger sum, often in the millions. It is a form of gambling, and has been criticized for being addictive. It is also a popular way to raise funds for public purposes, including public works projects, education and medical research.

In the seventeenth century, in colonial America, it was common for private and public ventures to be financed by lotteries. For example, the construction of Princeton and Columbia Universities was financed in this way, as were roads, canals and bridges. Lotteries were also used to fund militias, and the settlement of Canada was partly funded in this way too. Despite Protestant proscriptions against gambling, in the early colonies it was not uncommon for a lottery to be held every week.

Today, lotteries are a widespread form of entertainment and fundraising. They are available everywhere, from scratch-off games in gas stations to the massive Powerball and Mega Millions draws that adorn billboards across the country. They are a major industry with annual revenues of over thirty-five billion dollars. But are they really a good idea? And if so, what can we learn from history about their impact on society?