How to Establish a Public Lottery


The lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay a consideration (money, property, or work) for a chance to receive a prize determined by random procedure. In modern usage, a lottery may also refer to any system for giving away goods or services in which the chances of winning are based on payment of a consideration and not the performance of some skill. Despite the fact that the practice of gambling has been linked to negative outcomes in society, the lottery is considered by many people as a harmless activity that can provide entertainment and raise needed funds for public purposes.

The casting of lots for decisions and determination of fates has a long history, including several instances in the Bible and numerous Roman emperors’ gifts of slaves or property by lottery. Public lotteries distributing prizes for money are much more recent and widespread, originating in the United States with Benjamin Franklin’s 1776 lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Private lotteries, in which the proceeds are used for charitable purposes, are even older.

Lotteries have become one of the most popular forms of recreation in the United States and around the world. They have a broad appeal because of their simplicity, ease of participation and ability to generate substantial sums of money for a variety of public purposes. They are often promoted by advertising and through sales at convenience stores and other retail outlets, and they can be played by people of all ages and income levels.

In addition to their popularity, lotteries are a source of public revenue and have the potential to generate significant tax revenues for state governments. In general, state government officials are able to promote the lottery by stressing that the proceeds will benefit a specific public good such as education. This argument is particularly effective during periods of economic stress, when the public is concerned about tax increases or cuts in public spending.

Once the lottery is established, however, state governments face the challenge of maintaining the necessary level of public support to ensure continued growth and success. This involves a delicate balance between the state’s desire to expand and the public’s interest in limiting lottery participation. Eventually, the balance shifts in favor of expanding the lottery to include new games and broader prize categories.

The first step in establishing a successful lottery involves the creation of a pool or collection of tickets and their counterfoils from which winners will be selected. This collection must be thoroughly mixed by a mechanical means, such as shaking or tossing, before the winners are selected. This process is designed to ensure that chance determines the selection of winners and that no individual or group has an unfair advantage over others. The drawing can then be conducted by a state official or by an independent party, such as a private corporation that sells the tickets. In most lotteries, a large prize and several smaller prizes are offered.