Life is a Lottery

A gambling game or method of raising money in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. The term is also used to refer to anything whose outcome appears to be determined by chance:Life is a lottery, and you never know when your turn in it will come.

Among the oldest examples of lotteries are the drawing of lots to determine property ownership and other rights. This practice is mentioned in several ancient documents, including the Bible. Modern lotteries are generally regulated by the state and may involve a fixed number of tickets with different prize amounts or a random selection process, such as drawing numbers from a bowl.

In the 17th century, it became common for towns to hold public lotteries in order to raise funds for town fortifications and poor relief, as well as for other civic uses. These were popular with the population and were a painless form of taxation, although they were not without controversy.

By the 1970s, twelve states had introduced state-sponsored lotteries to supplement their incomes and to encourage people to play more games. They marketed the games as an alternative to income taxes and offered prizes that were more attractive than the usual state revenues, such as cars and vacations.

The success of these games largely depends on a base of super users who buy lots of tickets, especially when they are advertised as record-setting jackpots. As Les Bernal, an anti-state-sponsored gambling activist, explains to the Pew Charitable Trusts, these players account for 70 to 80 percent of lottery revenue and can make the difference between whether a game survives or dies.