Official lottery is a form of state-run gambling that awards cash prizes based on the results of random drawings of tickets. It is not to be confused with sports betting, which is a different activity entirely that involves predicting the outcome of future events. Lottery games are a popular source of revenue for many states, and they are often advertised through television and radio commercials. Most modern state-run lotteries offer multiple types of games, including keno, a type of bingo, and instant tickets. Some offer games similar to scratch-off tickets and a video lottery terminal.
The earliest lotteries were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when towns raised money for town fortifications and to help the poor. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that state-run lotteries began to spread across America. At the time, politicians were looking for ways to maintain state services without raising taxes. And lotteries seemed to be the answer. They were billed as budgetary miracles, a way to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air.
In his book For a Dollar and a Dream, historian Jonathan Cohen describes how the lottery was embraced by the Northeastern states with larger social safety nets, but not by those in the South and West that were more skeptical of government. He writes that the defenders of the lottery claimed it would give people the chance to become rich, and that they would be willing to pay to support public schools, parks, and health care. He adds that the lottery also appealed to those who felt they weren’t getting ahead in the “real economy,” namely black and brown Americans who were being hit by unemployment and poverty rates.