The History of the Lottery

The idea of winning the lottery is a dream that appeals to almost everybody. It’s a classic human urge, reinforced by lotteries’ incessant advertising.

Lottery began in the Low Countries in the 15th century as a way to raise money for town fortifications and help the poor. It is possible that even before that time, citizens had organized private lotteries to finance private ventures. King Francis I of France sponsored a lottery to help the state finances in the 16th century, but it was a failure.

Unlike the privately run games of old, state-run lotteries generally are not subject to market forces and are structured as government monopolies. State governments also retain a strong influence over lotteries through their own advertising and marketing efforts. Lottery revenues are largely divvied up between vendor costs, administrative expenses and whatever the state designates for public expenditures.

As a result, the structure of the lottery and its operations evolve in a piecemeal fashion with little or no overall policy oversight. Few, if any, states have a comprehensive “gambling” or “lottery” policy.

There are some serious concerns about state-run lotteries. In addition to dangling the promise of instant riches, they have been criticised for targeting lower socioeconomic groups; for promoting addictive games; for failing to address problem gambling; and for generating a great deal of political controversy and polarisation.