Official lottery is a gambling game or method of raising money in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded through a random drawing. Lottery profits can also be used for public charitable purposes. A lottery is any scheme whose outcome appears to be determined by chance: “Life is a lottery.”

There’s the obvious — people plain old like to gamble, and they’re going to buy lottery tickets whether they win or not. But there’s more to it than that. Lotteries prey on the poor by offering them instant riches in a world where the odds are already stacked against them. And they do it with billboards and TV commercials that show big jackpots and a lot of people laughing in the background.

The same religious and moral sensibilities that eventually led to prohibition started to turn the tide against gambling of all forms beginning in the 1800s, says Matheson. And crookedness was another factor; people began to complain about the rigged nature of some lotteries. Lottery organizers often pocketed the proceeds without awarding the prizes they promised. The enslaved Denmark Vesey, who won a lottery prize in Charleston, S.C., in 1822, used his winnings to purchase his freedom from a slave dealer. His example helped fuel the wave of anti-lottery sentiment that ultimately wiped out all legal lotteries in the United States by 1860. Some state governments still allow them, but they’re not exactly a model of transparency and integrity.