The casting of lots for material gain has a long record in human history, and the lottery is one of the oldest means of doing so. But despite their storied origins, lotteries are still controversial: are they a legitimate public service or, as critics claim, simply a government-sponsored version of gambling?

In recent decades, a number of states have adopted lotteries. In some cases, the lottery’s introduction was an attempt to relieve crushing state debts. In other cases, the state hoped that it would provide a reliable source of income. But irrespective of the motivation, state-sponsored lotteries have followed remarkably similar patterns.

They begin with a state legislature that creates a monopoly for the lottery; appoints a government agency or public corporation to run it; establishes a relatively modest number of relatively simple games, and then gradually expands its offerings as pressure for additional revenue increases. These expansions often come at the expense of smaller jackpots and lower prize-to-ticket ratios.

As they grow, lotteries also develop a business model that relies on a core group of regular players. Depending on the state, this core consists of anywhere from ten to 20 percent of all ticket purchasers. In the United States, it’s roughly equivalent to the membership of a major professional sports league. The money raised by these super users is enough to keep the lottery running, and it provides funds for marketing campaigns that are designed to lure more regular buyers in their direction.

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