A lottery is a gambling game in which tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize, usually money. The game is regulated by law in some countries, but is banned or restricted in others. Lottery is also a common way to fund public projects. In the seventeenth century, it became very popular in the Netherlands, where it was used to raise funds for a wide range of public usages, such as town fortifications, canals and bridges, and even charities for the poor.
In the early eighties, many states were casting around for solutions to budgetary crises that did not enrage an increasingly tax-averse electorate, and the lottery looked appealing. Lottery advocates brushed off long-standing ethical objections to gambling, arguing that people were going to gamble anyway, so why not let governments pocket the profits? It was a flawed argument, as we will see, but it did provide moral cover for those who approved the practice.
The idea of winning the lottery is intoxicating because it gives us hope that our problems will disappear if we just get lucky with a few numbers. But life is chaotic, and luck is a fickle thing: as the biblical scripture Ecclesiastes reminds us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Money is no guarantee of happiness, and winning the lottery is not a surefire solution to any problem. In fact, if winning the lottery means that you’ll have to pay more taxes, it may be worse than not playing at all.