What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a game of chance in which a person can win money or goods. Prizes are typically cash, but may also be goods or services. Lotteries are most commonly used to raise money for charitable or government purposes, but can also be conducted to promote tourism and other commercial interests. State governments usually enact laws regulating lotteries, and delegate to a lottery board or commission the responsibility of selecting and licensing retailers, training retail employees in use of computer terminals to sell tickets and redeem winnings, paying high-tier prizes, and ensuring that participants comply with state rules. In a small-scale lottery, the prize pool can be a fixed amount of money. Increasingly, however, the prize pool is a percentage of total receipts.

People have an inextricable human impulse to gamble, and there are many ways to do it: casinos, sports betting, horse tracks, financial markets. But lottery advertisements are a special sort of irrational gambling, dangling the promise of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility.

The earliest European lotteries were probably public auctions held to distribute property and slaves in ancient Rome, but the concept of drawing names for prizes dates back at least to the Bible (Numbers 26:55-55), where the Lord instructs Moses to divide land by lottery. The modern game began in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when local towns held lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and help the poor.