An official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (money, prizes, or property) among a group of people by chance. It differs from gambling in that payment of a consideration is required for the chance to win. A modern example is a state lottery, in which citizens pay to enter a drawing for a prize such as a car or money. A less formal type of lottery is a random selection of jury members.
In early America, public lotteries were a popular method of raising money for everything from the construction of churches to civil defense. The Continental Congress even tried to hold a lottery to help fund the Revolutionary War. In a nation that was morally uneasy about the idea of taxes, lotteries became a sort of fiscal miracle: a way to keep up with needed services without forcing voters to choose between paying higher sales or income taxes.
Today, despite the fact that it is widely known that the chances of winning are very low, people still spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets every year. And the money does matter: It pays for schools, roads, and even some prisons. But the truth is that it also makes it harder for states to raise other types of taxes. Thanks to years of loud campaigning and heavy promotion, the public now believes that schools and other vital services are lavishly supported by gambling money—a belief that has made it much harder to pass needed tax increases.