What Is a Lottery?

A lottery is a form of gambling that involves drawing numbers and winning prizes. Many states hold lotteries, which are run by state governments and offer a variety of games. For example, some states sell instant-win scratch-off tickets while others run daily games where players pick the correct numbers. In the United States, most states and Washington, DC, have lotteries. Some lotteries have a specific purpose, such as funding public schools. Others are meant to raise money for charitable causes.

Several scholars have discussed the desirability of state-run lotteries, and Cohen is among those who argue that they can be a viable source of revenue for the state. The main argument is that, since people are going to gamble anyway, the state might as well profit from their actions. This line of reasoning, however, ignores longstanding ethical objections to gambling. It also ignores the fact that, when a government sells a lottery, it is essentially taxing people on their addictions.

Lotteries are often considered addictive because they rely on the combination of monetary and non-monetary benefits to induce a person to buy a ticket. The overall utility of a ticket can therefore exceed the disutility of the monetary loss, making buying one a rational decision for some people.

When a state adopts a lottery, it typically legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public corporation or agency to administer the lottery; begins operations with a small number of relatively simple games; and, because of continuous pressure for additional revenue, progressively expands the scope of the lottery by adding new games. These changes are driven by a combination of public opinion and the need to keep up with competitors, but they also reflect some basic features of the industry itself.