What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a form of gambling that gives out prizes to players who pay for chances to win. The prize money varies depending on the game, but it is usually in the range of 40 to 60 percent of the total pool. The term “lottery” is also used to refer to other forms of randomized selection, such as drawing lots for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a public school. In recent decades, states have promoted lotteries as a painless source of revenue. Politicians see it as a way to raise funds without raising taxes and voters view it as a way to spend their money for the good of the state.

The first recorded lotteries to sell tickets with prizes in the form of cash were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. The name “lottery” may derive from the Dutch word lot (“fate”), itself probably a calque on Middle French loterie (the action of drawing lots) or from the Latin fortuna, meaning fate.

In the United States, about a third of adults play the lottery at least once a year. More than half of these players purchase tickets in convenience stores. The remainder buy them from nonprofit organizations (such as churches and fraternal organizations), service stations, restaurants and bars, and bowling alleys. In 2003, there were almost 186,000 retailers selling lottery tickets nationwide.