Despite all the evidence of their long odds, lottery players persist in a sliver of hope that they will win. This hope is not just irrational, it’s also dangerous. For many people, winning the lottery is their last, best or only chance at a better life.

Lottery is an important source of revenue for state governments, but it’s also a controversial form of gambling that attracts criticism over its impact on poor people and problem gamblers. Lotteries are operated as businesses that seek to maximize profits, and advertising focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the games. As a result, they often operate at cross-purposes with the public interest.

The history of state lotteries reflects this problem. They typically follow a similar pattern: the state legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public agency or corporation to run the lottery; begins operations with a small number of relatively simple games; and then, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the number and complexity of its offerings.

The resulting system is inherently opaque, and it gives state officials little ability to make policy decisions with the benefit of a broad overview. This is particularly true because the expansion of lottery games usually occurs piecemeal and incrementally, with each new game absorbing a small fraction of lottery revenues. As a result, most states have no coherent “lottery policy.” Rather, lottery decisions tend to be made by individuals in the executive branch or legislature, with few opportunities for public oversight.