The practice of determining fates and allocating property by the casting of lots has long roots, dating to biblical times and ancient Rome. The first public lotteries to award prize money appear in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders, with towns attempting to raise money to fortify defenses or aid the poor. Francis I of France permitted lotteries for both private and public profit in his kingdom beginning in 1520.
Since then, states have adopted lotteries at a steady pace. The arguments for and against their adoption, as well as the structure of resulting state lotteries, have evolved in remarkably similar ways.
One argument that has proved very popular is the notion that a lottery benefits a specific public good. This can be especially effective when the underlying fiscal condition of the state government is strained, such as when it faces tax increases or cuts in public programs. But studies have also found that the popularity of a lottery does not necessarily correlate with the fiscal health of the state government, as it has consistently won broad public approval even in prosperous times.
Nevertheless, the overall cost-benefit analysis of lotteries is highly uncertain. The costs are difficult to measure, and they can be lumped together with other gambling expenditures. The benefits are more straightforward to assess but are also harder to quantify. Many of the benefits are indirect, based on increased spending and income in society as a whole. In addition, the lottery is a form of gambling that is inherently unfair and based on chance, not skill. This makes it a bad idea for an empathetic society.