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The Evolution of the Lottery

A gambling game in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded according to chance. Originally, lotteries were used as a means of raising funds for charitable or public purposes. The first recorded lotteries took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when they were used to raise money for town fortifications and other projects.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run lotteries. The six that don’t are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada, which already allow gambling and don’t want another lottery competing for their profits; or because they don’t have the same fiscal urgency that would push other states to adopt one.

State lottery laws establish a commission or board to oversee the operation, which has the authority to select and license retailers and lottery terminals, train employees, promote the lottery, and administer the games and prizes. Each state also sets its own rules for lottery play, including stipulations on how many tickets can be purchased per week or month and whether minors may participate.

Lottery revenues tend to expand rapidly upon introduction, then level off and even decline. This has driven a need to continually introduce new games to maintain revenues, and to address other concerns such as compulsive gamblers and regressive impacts on lower-income groups. As these efforts unfold, the public’s views of the lottery have evolved significantly, and it isn’t clear how long such a system will continue to enjoy broad support.

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