The Growing Popularity of the Lottery


The drawing of lots for property, rights, and other matters has a long record in human history, including several instances recorded in the Bible. The lottery became popular in the United States in the seventeenth century and was used to raise funds for towns, wars, colleges, public works, and other purposes. The term lottery is derived from the Dutch word lot, meaning fate or luck, and may be a calque on Middle English loterie “action of drawing lots.”

Most state lotteries were once little more than traditional raffles, with players buying tickets for a future draw and prizes based solely on chance. But innovations since the 1970s have brought new types of games that allow players to participate in the lottery without waiting weeks or months for a result. These games tend to have lower prize amounts and higher odds of winning, but they also attract a broader audience. According to consumer financial services company Bankrate, people making more than fifty thousand dollars a year spend about one percent of their income on lottery tickets; those earning less than thirty thousand dollars spend thirteen per cent.

The growth of these games has created a number of issues. In addition to their effect on poorer people and problem gamblers, they have prompted debate about the proper role of state government in running a lottery and promoting gambling. In the end, however, it is likely that the popularity of lottery games will continue to grow.