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The distribution of prizes by lot is an ancient practice. It appears in the Bible, in legal documents of ancient Greece and Rome, and in keno slips from the Chinese Han dynasty between 205 and 187 BC.

Throughout history, the lottery has been used for both gambling and to distribute goods such as property and slaves. Today, lotteries are largely run by states as a way to raise money without raising taxes. They have a long record of popular support and success. Yet a number of significant issues have arisen, and the industry has not been immune from criticism and decline in recent years.

State lotteries are a classic case of policy-making made piecemeal and incrementally. Public officials often do not have a comprehensive view of the industry, and they are heavily dependent on revenue that they cannot control. This leads to a series of intractable issues, including excessive growth and an inability to address problems when they appear.

A major problem is the proliferation of mega-sized jackpots. These draw attention from the news media and encourage people to buy tickets, but they can also lead to unmanageable prize increases over time. In addition, they create the perception that gambling is inevitable and that the government might as well offer it in order to generate revenue.

In most states, lottery proceeds are earmarked for specific purposes, such as education, but critics charge that these appropriations simply allow the legislature to reduce its regular appropriations from the general fund by an equal amount.