What is a Lottery?


a system of awarding prizes (money, goods, services) by chance, typically using tickets that are sold to participants for the right to participate in a drawing. The prizes may be a single large amount or many smaller amounts. Lotteries are popular with the public and have long been a source of government revenue in most states.

The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, to raise money for wall building and town fortifications, and for poor relief. Today’s state lotteries are generally based on similar structures. They establish a monopoly for themselves; appoint a state agency or public corporation to run them (rather than licensing a private firm in return for a share of the profits); start operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, driven by the need for increased revenues, progressively expand their portfolios of games and complexity.

Lottery supporters rely on two messages primarily to sustain support. The first is that playing the lottery is fun. The second is that, even if you do not win, the money you spend on tickets supports important state projects. These messages obscure the negative expected value of lottery participation, encourage people to gamble compulsively and spend a larger proportion of their income on tickets than they would otherwise, and mask the industry’s regressive effects on lower-income communities.

State-based lotteries also cultivate extensive, specific constituencies, including convenience store owners (lottery proceeds make up a significant portion of their incomes); suppliers (who often make heavy contributions to state political campaigns); teachers (in states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education), etc. They also promote the idea that a “little bit” of lottery play is a good way to support the state, its children, and other worthy causes.