In the United States and around the world, people spend money on tickets that have a set of numbers on them. Those numbers are then drawn randomly by a government agency, and the winnings — usually a small fraction of the total spending — go to the winners and to the state or city that runs the lottery.

The lotteries are huge businesses. Last year, they took in $91 billion from players and taxpayers. They also allow governments to raise money without raising taxes, although critics say they disproportionately burden poor communities and encourage over-spending.

But a lot more is going on than just the inextricable human impulse to gamble and to dream of instant riches. Lotteries dangle enormous jackpots to lure people into playing. And the jackpots keep growing, even as the odds of winning them dwindle.

When the winner is declared, lottery officials typically take 24 percent of the total winnings to pay federal taxes — and that’s before any state and local taxes are applied. Those taxes can leave the winner with only half of what they won, especially if they chose an annual payout instead of a lump sum. And the winnings aren’t guaranteed to be invested — they could end up being used to pay off debt or to buy more lottery tickets. That’s why most lottery winners opt for the lump sum — and why the New York lottery is happy to give them what it would cost to buy bonds.