Lottery is an arrangement in which money placed as stakes is collected and pooled, a percentage of which goes to costs of organizing the lottery and profits for its sponsors, leaving the rest available for prizes. Depending on the culture and structure of a particular lottery, this percentage may be as low as ten percent of total ticket sales.

As a business, a lottery is designed to maximize revenues through promotions and advertising that are aimed at specific groups of people. This practice can have negative consequences for poor people and problem gamblers. Furthermore, it places the state at cross purposes with its own citizens, promoting gambling that is widely recognized as having negative effects on society.

During the immediate post-World War II period, states viewed a lottery as a way to supplement state revenues without burdening the middle class and working classes with onerous taxes. Cohen argues that this shifted in the nineteen-sixties when rising inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War began to strain state budgets, forcing many states to choose between raising taxes or cutting services, both options being unpopular with voters.

In response, some legislators argued that the lottery could be used to “earmark” funds for specific programs, such as public education. However, critics point out that, in effect, this simply allows the legislature to reduce by the same amount the appropriations it would otherwise have had to allot for that purpose from its general fund.