The lottery is a process whereby a person who pays a small amount of money can win a larger sum if one or more of his or her numbers match those randomly drawn by a machine. This is not unlike selecting a seat in a bus or train, filling a vacancy in a subsidized housing unit or kindergarten placements at a public school—it is simply done through chance rather than by a fair selection process.
The first known lotteries were held in the fifteenth century. Various towns used them to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor, as can be seen from a record in Ghent dated 9 May 1445. They were popular and hailed as a painless form of taxation.
Today, lottery tickets are ubiquitous and many people play them regularly. Some even make winning the lottery a career, buying multiple tickets each week to increase their chances of winning the jackpot. The popularity of the game has caused state governments to expand their prize pools, raising the odds of winning. Yet despite this, the overall odds of winning are much smaller than in the past.
The reason why is simple. People are more accustomed to high-odds games than low-odds ones. This is because people tend to believe that the higher the odds of a winning ticket, the bigger the prize will be. When the odds of winning a million dollars increased from one in three-million to one in five-million, ticket sales went up. When the lottery’s prize cap was lifted in 1978, it became apparent that this trend would continue.