A lottery is a game in which players pay a small sum of money, select a group of numbers or have machines randomly spit out numbers, and win prizes if their numbers match those of others. The concept is ancient; Moses used it to determine the distribution of land among the people of Israel, and Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by lot as entertainment at Saturnalian feasts. Modern examples include a lottery for housing units in a subsidized apartment building and a school admissions lottery.

Lotteries are a form of gambling, and they are a popular way for states to raise revenue. They are promoted to the public as a fun, low-risk activity that is a good alternative to paying taxes and buying goods and services with cash. People who purchase tickets spend billions each year, which represents foregone savings they could have put toward retirement or college tuition. They also contribute to a growing culture of addiction, as evidenced by the many stories of people who have lost their homes and families after winning the lottery.

There are two messages state lottery commissions rely on to promote their games. One is that playing the lottery is a fun experience and a great social bonding activity. The other is that the money they raise benefits the state. This latter message obscures the regressivity of lotteries and makes them look like a benign tax instead of an insidious form of gambling.