Most states have lotteries: games that require you to pick the right numbers to win a prize. There are a few things going on here: people simply like to gamble, the government is getting a big chunk of your money, and some people have this weird, irrational belief that their only hope for a better life is by winning the lottery.
The lottery has been around for a while. There are records of it from the Low Countries in the 1500s, and it was used to raise money for town fortifications, among other things. In fact, Francis I of France used it to fund his campaigns in Italy, where he was inspired by the success of the Italian lotteries.
Today, the state has a huge monopoly on the business and spends billions to promote it. The prizes are often enormous, and the jackpots can be life-changing. Billboards hawking the Mega Millions or Powerball are ubiquitous.
Most of the money outside of your winnings goes back to the state, where it’s usually earmarked for things like education or gambling addiction initiatives. But the state also benefits from its clout: it gets contracts with convenience stores to sell tickets, and it builds an extensive constituency of lottery suppliers, teachers (in states where some of the revenue is earmarked for them), state legislators, and people who play a lot of the games. This kind of support can help a state get a lot more out of its lotteries than it might otherwise be able to.