A game of chance in which numbered tickets are sold, and prizes — often cash or goods — are awarded to winners selected at random. A lottery is typically regulated by state or other official authorities to ensure fair play and legality.

The first recorded lotteries took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, and were used to raise funds for everything from town fortifications to helping the poor. Today, state-run lotteries are huge moneymakers, and their profits depend on a loyal player base. As Les Bernal, an anti-state-sponsored gambling activist, has pointed out, up to 80 percent of lottery revenue comes from just 10 percent of players. And that group is disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite.

Big jackpots are the lure for many lottery players, and the games’ marketers know it. They advertise that a winning ticket can “change your life,” and feature billboards showing the huge amounts that recent jackpots have earned.

But big jackpots don’t just drive sales; they also give lotteries a windfall of free publicity on news sites and on TV. When the prize amount reaches a record-setting size, it is more likely to carry over to the next drawing, driving ticket sales even more. In addition, a large jackpot creates a sense of urgency that draws on the human desire to get rich fast.

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