Lottery is the practice of distributing something, usually money or prizes, among many people by chance. Lotteries require payment for a chance at winning, which distinguishes them from commercial promotions that do not require a payment but rather rely on random procedures to select winners (for example, the selection of jury members). The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or fortune, and is related to the French word loterie.
There is a certain inextricable human urge to gamble, which is what drives so many to purchase lottery tickets. And the sheer number of people who do so makes it difficult to ignore the fact that lotteries are a major source of state revenue, generating about $90 billion per year worldwide.
The vast majority of this revenue comes from players who are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. It is easy to argue that the lottery is a form of social mobility, but the truth is that it is a massively regressive tax on the poor.
Despite this, the lottery is still popular, and states continue to promote it because they feel compelled to raise revenue in the wake of a global recession and increasing inequality. But the historical context for this compulsion has changed dramatically since World War II, when states could count on a wealthy few to pay the bulk of state taxes. Now, the states rely on the lottery as a relatively painless way to increase revenue and help fund a growing array of social safety net programs.