Lottery is a form of gambling that involves drawing numbers to select a winner. The winning prize may be a lump sum of cash or an annuity with payments over time. The amount of the winning prize depends on state rules and lottery company practices.
In the early days of America, lottery prizes included slaves and other valuable goods. Despite Thomas Jefferson’s objection that it “makes the people the slaves of the capitalist,” the lottery became a popular source of funds for public projects, including schooling and roads. In a famous case, Denmark Vesey won a lottery ticket in South Carolina and went on to foment a slave rebellion.
The modern lottery traces its roots to the seventeenth century, when Dutch states organized lotteries for a variety of purposes. These early lotteries were often tangled up in the slave trade, as well as with general economic fluctuation. Defenders of lottery argued that since gamblers would spend money anyway, governments might as well take the profits and provide services that those same gamblers might otherwise have to pay for.
The argument was effective. In 1964, New Hampshire approved the first state-run lottery in the modern era, and spending on the game surged. Its popularity coincided with a decline in the financial security of most Americans, as income gaps widened, pensions and job security eroded, and health-care costs rose. For many, the dream of winning a jackpot replaced Alexander Hamilton’s national promise that education and hard work would make them better off than their parents.