The History of the Lottery

The term “lottery” is probably derived from Middle Dutch loterie (perhaps via calque on Middle French loterie), which may have meant “action of drawing lots.” It is certainly true that the idea of distributing property in some way by chance dates back to ancient times. The Old Testament has a number of references to the division of land by lottery; and Roman emperors gave away slaves and property in this manner during Saturnalian feasts and other entertaining events.

Modern state-sponsored lotteries have a more utilitarian origin, however. Historically, these have been used to raise funds for everything from building the British Museum to rebuilding the Faneuil Hall in Boston to supplying cannons for the defense of Philadelphia. And although critics argue that these public activities promote addictive gambling behavior, provide a major regressive tax on lower-income groups, and may encourage other abuses, lotteries remain a significant source of government revenue.

Because state lotteries are designed as businesses focused on maximizing revenues, their advertising messages are coded to convey two main ideas. First, a message that playing the lottery is fun. This is a message that obscures the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who play lotteries spend a substantial portion of their incomes on these tickets. Second, a message that promotes the idea that there is a way to beat the odds of winning by using math. By avoiding superstitions, hot and cold numbers, and quick picks and by picking combinations that are mathematically balanced (low, high, even and odd) one can improve the chances of a win.

Similar Posts