A lottery is a game of chance in which people can win prizes for correctly guessing a series of numbers or symbols. Most lotteries have a fixed prize fund from which the winning tickets are selected. In some cases the prize may be a percentage of total receipts, but more commonly it is a fixed amount in cash or goods. The practice of running a lottery began in the fourteen-hundreds when it was common in the Low Countries, where it raised money for everything from town fortifications to charity for the poor. Politicians who were unable or unwilling to institute sales or income taxes embraced it as a painless way of raising revenue.

This initial era came to an end in the 1800s when moral and religious sensitivities began turning against gambling, Cohen writes. Corrupt practices also helped to bring it to an end. Lotteries were rife with bribery, and some crooked operators could use their monopoly to advertise nationally and ship their tickets across state lines. Eventually, Congress passed laws banning interstate lottery promotion and sale, and the era of legal state lotteries in America ended.