Lottery is a game of chance in which people buy numbered tickets and a random drawing determines winners. In addition to being a form of gambling, a lottery can also be a way to raise money for a public charitable purpose or other non-profit venture.

The word “lottery” is probably derived from the Dutch noun lotterij, which may be a calque of Middle French loterie “action of distributing lots” or possibly from Italian lotteria, a corruption of Latin lotta, meaning fate. The ancients used lotteries to give away property and slaves, while modern governments use them for military conscription, commercial promotions, the distribution of political offices, and even jury selection.

In the US, scratch-off games make up the majority of lottery sales. These are generally considered the least regressive of all lottery games, but still tend to draw lower-income and less educated players. For instance, I talked to a woman who bought one ticket on a lark at a Powerball jackpot and ended up spending thousands a year on tickets.

In the immediate post-World War II period, some states viewed lotteries as a way to expand their social safety net without burdening working class and middle-class citizens with especially onerous taxes. But that view is based on the flawed assumption that it’s inevitable that people will gamble, so the state might as well offer these games. As we’ll see, this is a dangerously flawed logic.