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The History of State Lotteries

A lottery is a gambling game that involves paying a small sum of money for the chance of winning a large amount of money. A number of states in the United States offer lotteries, and some governments use them to raise money for various public-works projects and other purposes.

The History of State Lotteries

A state government may establish a lottery for several reasons: to provide revenue for public projects, to increase tax revenues, or to attract tourist traffic. In most cases, the legislature enacts a statute or a constitutional provision authorizing the lottery. In addition, the legislature often assigns a commission or agency to administer the lottery. This body is typically charged with overseeing the operation and ensuring that all players are treated fairly.

When the lottery is first established, it is a relatively simple operation: a modest number of games are offered and the jackpots are not super-sized. However, with the passage of time and increasing pressure for additional revenue, the lottery increasingly expands its games in both size and complexity. The increased popularity of super-sized jackpots in particular has given lottery games a windfall of free publicity on news sites and television. The lottery’s growing popularity also drives ticket sales, since more and more people want to win the jackpot.

The Evolution of State Lotteries

In virtually every state, the establishment and evolution of a lottery have followed remarkably uniform patterns: policy decisions are made piecemeal and incrementally; authority is fragmented and decentralized, and pressures are constantly applied to officials at all levels, including the executive branch. The result is a form of public policy that rarely provides a general overview or even a coherent definition of what the industry is and how it should be operated.

Once a lottery is established, it is a highly competitive industry that evolves in response to changing demands. While some critics complain that lotteries promote compulsive gambling, others argue that the industry is an essential element of the American economy and that its emergence has played a crucial role in economic recovery.

The Evolution of State Lotteries

As the public embraced the idea of lotteries, many state governments developed a monopoly or a franchise in the industry. In some states, a corporation was licensed to operate the lottery in return for a share of the profits. In other states, the state government operated the lottery itself.

Usually, a lottery is administered by a special division of the state government. This division licenses retailers to sell tickets, selects and trains retail employees, and monitors the games for fraud and abuse.

The Division also determines how much of the lottery’s proceeds go to education in each jurisdiction, based on the average daily attendance for K-12 and community college school districts and full-time enrollment at higher education and other specialized institutions.

In 1998, the Council of State Governments found that most state governments directly administered their lotteries, but a few (in Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana) used quasi-governmental or privatized lottery corporations to run their operations. Among the more popular lottery games are the Mega Millions and Powerball.