The lottery is the most popular form of gambling in the United States, generating more than $100 billion in ticket sales annually. Its supporters argue that it benefits state governments by providing tax revenues that otherwise would not be available. They also point to the fact that lotteries raise money for state programs, such as education. However, this argument ignores the fact that state budgets are highly complex and that the revenue generated by lotteries is relatively small compared to other sources of government income.
Historically, the casting of lots for material rewards has been a common practice. It was used for example, in the Roman Empire for municipal repairs and to distribute fancy dinnerware as gifts at parties. The first known public lottery was established in a European city during the reign of Augustus Caesar, and it distributed tickets for a prize of varying value.
Lotteries gain broad support in the United States when they are perceived as beneficial to a particular public good, such as education. They are especially successful when they are adopted during times of economic stress, when the prospect of onerous taxes or cutbacks in government services is feared. However, studies have found that the popularity of lotteries is not connected to the objective fiscal condition of state government, as they are often embraced even when a state is experiencing a surplus.