What’s Behind the Lottery Billboards?

The lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to win prizes. The prizes vary, but they are often a combination of money and goods. It is a form of gambling, and it can be addictive. Lotteries are usually run by government agencies, but can also be private. Some are played online. The chances of winning are very low, but people still participate in them.

The reason is that they offer a small sliver of hope that they will be the one to hit it big. Even though most know they won’t win, there is a small part of their brain that tells them it will happen to them. But what happens when that sliver of hope turns into a crushing sense of entitlement?

Lottery players as a group contribute billions to state coffers that could be better spent on health care, retirement savings, or education. But this revenue source is also a tax on poorer families, minorities, and people with gambling addictions. And as Vox’s Alvin Chang points out, it disproportionately raises money from zip codes with more low-income residents.

It’s no wonder that, in this age of inequality and limited social mobility, people continue to be lured into the lottery with its promise of instant riches. But there’s a lot more going on behind those billboards for Powerball and Mega Millions. Lotteries have been around for centuries, and they’ve been used to finance everything from roads and canals to the Sydney Opera House. In colonial America, they financed church buildings, colleges, schools, and even wars.