How the Lottery Works

In a lottery, tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize by chance. Though gambling can involve skill, lotteries are not necessarily based on skill and must be run so that every ticket has an equal chance of winning. The way to do this is to thoroughly mix the tickets before the drawing, which is often done by shaking or tossing, and sometimes with computers. Then, each application gets a number or symbol. The color of the number or symbol indicates how many times it has been drawn, and the number of times each application has received the same number shows how often that number has been picked.

In his article, Cohen discusses how the popularity of state-run lotteries came about in the nineteen-sixties when America’s prosperity collapsed and states began to find it hard to maintain their services without raising taxes or cutting programs. For politicians, he writes, the lottery appeared to be “a budgetary miracle, the opportunity for states to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air.”

Most people buy tickets not because they’re compulsive gamblers or because they’re committed to a cause. They buy them because it’s fun to fantasize about standing on a stage with a giant check and saying, “I won!” Ultimately, however, most of us aren’t playing the lottery for the money; we’re buying a momentary sense of wonder. The odds of winning are so low, however, that it’s possible to spend a lifetime buying tickets and still never win.