The lottery is a type of gambling game where the participants pay for the chance to win a prize, such as a large sum of money. The casting of lots to determine fates has a long history, dating back at least to the biblical Book of Numbers, but modern lotteries began in the fifteenth century in the Low Countries, where towns drew numbers to raise funds for town walls and fortifications as well as for the poor. In the United States, lottery games were introduced by British colonists and were initially heavily opposed by Christians, leading to ten state bans between 1844 and 1859.

Cohen argues that the modern lottery grew out of a convergence of factors: growing awareness of all the money to be made, coupled with a state funding crisis in the late twentieth century as population growth and inflation began to deplete state coffers. With federal funding declining, lottery revenues became a crucial source of revenue for many states, especially those with generous social safety nets.

To boost ticket sales, lottery organizers sparked a boom in super-sized jackpots that would earn them free publicity on news websites and newscasts. The problem was that the bigger the prizes got, the lower the odds of winning.

Individuals who had access to winning tickets could circumvent lottery security by separating the front layer that contained the numbers from the back and then attaching a new back with a different name. Alternatively, they could use solvents such as alcohols, ketones, or acetates to “wick” through the coating that conceals the lottery numbers and reveal them.