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The History of the Lottery

The use of lotteries to make decisions and determine fates has a long record, dating back to ancient times. The lottery, as a state enterprise established by law and run by a public corporation, has been more modern in scope and function, but its basic design is similar to that of the old-fashioned casting of lots: the public buys tickets; the winning ticket holders receive prize money.

Most state lotteries are based on simple games, such as drawing numbers to win cash prizes or other goods or services. The winnings are determined by a random selection of tickets, and the more matching numbers you have on your ticket, the higher your chances of winning. The prizes can be small, such as a scratch-off ticket with a single number and a correspondingly small prize, or large, such as a multi-million dollar jackpot.

A common element of lotteries is that, like most businesses, they have a strong incentive to grow revenues, which must be accomplished through a vigorous marketing effort. As a result, state lotteries tend to expand rapidly and introduce new games. They also typically develop extensive and specific constituencies: convenience store owners (who are the main vendors); suppliers of the various components used in the lottery process (heavy contributions to state political campaigns by such companies are often reported); teachers, in states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education; and the general public, with high participation rates in most states.

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