The casting of lots for decisions and determining fates has a long history, including several instances in the Bible. More recently, however, lotteries have been promoted in many states as a means of raising taxes without the unpleasantness of an immediate and heavy tax increase. The state legislature passes a law creating a lottery, usually setting up a public corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of profits). A small number of relatively simple games are launched, and then revenues rapidly expand. In order to maintain and even increase revenues, new games are continually introduced.

While these innovations have made the lottery more interesting to the general public, they have not addressed the fundamental issues. The major problem is that, like other forms of gambling, the lottery attracts people who are not clear-eyed about its odds and risks. They enter the game believing that their luck will change, and they develop all sorts of quote-unquote systems for selecting numbers that are supposed to increase their chances of winning. They also believe that they can avoid losing by playing smaller games with lower prize amounts.

The result is that the lottery grows to include games with a higher level of risk for players, who then demand larger prizes in order to offset the higher probability of loss. Those high stakes create a vicious cycle where the jackpot grows and sales of tickets increase, but the odds of hitting a winning combination remain unchanged.