The lottery is a form of gambling where the prize money is allocated by chance. In some lotteries, winners are chosen by number selection and in others, the winnings are awarded through a random drawing. The prizes are often substantial. In the latter case, the sums awarded may be split among many winning ticket holders or, alternatively, they may be transferred to the next drawing (a process called “rollover”). In this manner, very large amounts can be paid out.
A bettor may buy a numbered receipt in exchange for his stake, which is then deposited with the lottery organizers to be shuffled and possibly selected in the drawing. The organizers deduct some percentage of the pool for expenses and profits, leaving the rest for the prizes. In some cultures, the prize size is fixed, in others it is determined by a formula that takes into account the relative costs of running the lottery and the value of the prizes offered.
Cohen’s book begins with a brief history of the lottery, but his main focus is on its modern incarnation. He argues that the phenomenon of state-run lotteries began to take hold in the nineteen sixties, when a national consciousness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. In the postwar period, Americans had become increasingly affluent and had developed an aversion to taxation, making it difficult for politicians to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services.