What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a type of gambling wherein people place monetary bets on the outcome of a drawing or series of drawings for prizes. Prizes can be cash or goods, and some lotteries are organized so that a portion of the proceeds is donated to good causes. The lottery is a popular pastime in many countries. Some people have a long-standing habit of playing, while others play only rarely. There are several types of lotteries, including state-run and privately run games. In addition to the traditional game of chance, a lottery may also be used to determine the winner of a contest or sporting event. For example, the National Basketball Association holds a lottery to determine the first draft pick of each season.

The word “lottery” is believed to derive from the Middle Dutch noun lot, which itself may be derived from the Old English verb lotinge, meaning the action of drawing lots. The term is found in the literature of the Low Countries beginning in the 1500s, with records in Ghent, Bruges and other cities describing lotteries for town fortifications and other local projects.

In the modern era, lotteries are commonly established in states by legislating a state monopoly; choosing a public agency or corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm to do so); starting with a small number of relatively simple games and gradually expanding the variety; and establishing a system for recording sales and collecting stakes. Normally, a percentage of the total money placed as stakes must be deducted for costs associated with organizing and promoting the lotteries and for taxes or other revenues. The remaining pool is usually divided into a few large prizes and a larger number of smaller ones.

The lottery’s greatest appeal to its defenders is its role as a source of painless revenue for the state. By attracting large numbers of players who are willing to spend their money in return for a shot at a big prize, lotteries supposedly reduce the need for state legislatures to increase appropriations from general fund sources. It has been noted, however, that the earmarking of lottery funds for a particular purpose (such as public education) simply reduces the amount of the state appropriation to that specific program and does not free up any money from other budget lines that could be used for the same purpose.

Research has shown that lottery play varies by income and other socio-economic characteristics. For instance, men tend to play more often than women; blacks and Hispanics play more frequently than whites; and the young and the old play less frequently than those in the middle age range. There is also a clear correlation between wealth and lottery participation: those with higher incomes are more likely to play than those with lower incomes. Nonetheless, research has not yet shown that the entertainment value of lottery play is high enough to offset the disutility of a monetary loss.