What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a term used to refer to an arrangement by which prizes are allocated in a process that depends entirely on chance. In a lottery, the prizes may be money or goods and services. Lotteries often involve a number of participants and a system for recording the identities of those who participate, the amounts staked, and the numbers or symbols on which they have bet. Usually, each participant must sign a ticket, which is then deposited with the lottery organization for later shuffling and possible selection in a drawing. Some modern lotteries use computer systems to record and report on lottery transactions, but many tickets are still sold in retail shops.

Lotteries have broad public support. In states that have them, 60 percent of adults report playing at least once a year. Lottery critics focus on the problem of compulsive gambling, and the alleged regressive effect of the lottery on lower-income groups. The lottery is also a source of revenue that politicians see as a way to increase the size of government without imposing onerous taxes on the general population.

The first recorded lotteries appeared in the Low Countries in the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and the poor. The word lottery probably derives from Middle Dutch lotere, perhaps via Latin lupere “a choice by lot” or Old English hlot, or possibly a calque on Middle French loterie.