The official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by chance. Modern lotteries often involve a consideration such as money or property that is given away in exchange for a chance to win, but they can also be used for military conscription, commercial promotions and other non-gambling purposes. Some governments prohibit the sale of lottery tickets, while others endorse and regulate them. In the United States, state lotteries are usually operated by government-owned companies. The interprovincial lotteries of Canada are owned and administered by provincial/territorial governments.

Cohen argues that the modern lottery emerged in the nineteen-sixties as growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with state budget crises, and as political leaders searched for ways to raise revenue without angering antitax voters. Lotteries quickly spread, he writes, because of their appeal to gamblers and the public’s fascination with big-ticket jackpots.

With the passage of time, lottery games grew in size and complexity, and jackpots became more frequently and publicly newsworthy. In an attempt to bolster sales, many lotteries began offering smaller prizes but larger number combinations, and jackpots were soon announcing record-breaking sums. These super-sized prizes, he writes, not only boosted sales but gave the games a windfall of free publicity on news websites and television shows. In an effort to prevent these giant jackpots from fading into obscurity, some lotteries made it harder to win the top prize and reduced the frequency of rollovers, which increases the odds of winning.