The casting of lots to determine fates and property rights has a long history in human societies. It is the basis of several ancient rituals, and a number of modern state lotteries are based on the same principles. These include:
The basic elements of a lottery are a pool or collection of tickets or their counterfoils from which winners are drawn; a drawing, or some procedure for selecting winners; and a way to record the identities of the bettors and the amounts staked. This latter requirement often involves some mechanical device, such as shaking or tossing the tickets or their counterfoils, and many modern lotteries use computers to record the bettors’ selections and to generate winning numbers or symbols.
Lottery supporters have a variety of arguments in support of their position. They include:
They assert that lotteries are a “painless” source of revenue, in which the players voluntarily spend their money for the benefit of the state. They also claim that lotteries are a popular form of entertainment and can be a useful tool for encouraging good habits.
Critics contend that lottery advertising is deceptive and tends to exaggerate the odds of winning, and that the money won in a lottery is not worth as much as claimed (the typical prize, in fact, is paid in annual installments over 20 years, with inflation and taxes dramatically eroding the actual amount). They further argue that lotteries are a classic example of government policy being made piecemeal, incrementally, with little or no general overview.