What is Lottery?


Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers or symbols are drawn to determine the winner of a prize. The lottery is distinguished from other types of gambling in that it does not involve skill and is purely random. Consequently, critics of lotteries charge that they are deceptive and misuse public funds. In addition, they contend that lotteries promote gambling and encourage people to spend money they cannot afford, thereby hurting the poor. The word “lottery” is probably derived from Middle Dutch loterie, from the noun lot meaning fate or fortune. The casting of lots for decisions and determining fates has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible. However, the lotteries of modern times, which distribute prizes for material gain, are of more recent origin.

Lotteries are usually organized by state governments and operate as a public service to raise revenue for a variety of public usages. Generally, a percentage of the total amount staked by all bettors goes to operating expenses and profits; some goes for advertising; the remainder is available for prizes to those who participate in the drawing. A few large prizes are normally offered, but the majority of winning tickets come from bettors who purchase a number or symbol on a ticket. This number is deposited with the organization for subsequent shuffling and possible selection in the drawing. Computers have been used increasingly for this purpose.

In general, state lotteries are well run and have broad public support. This is partly because they are perceived as serving a specific public need, such as education. Furthermore, they are usually marketed as a painless form of taxation. In addition, they typically generate substantial revenues from a wide range of sources.

Regardless of their popularity, state lotteries suffer from a number of problems, primarily because of their reliance on gambling and addictive behavior as major sources of revenue. In addition, state officials often have a limited view of the overall public welfare and tend to make policy decisions in a piecemeal fashion.

Another problem with lotteries is that they have a tendency to create extensive, specific constituencies, such as convenience store owners (lotteries are a popular cash-flow supplement), lottery suppliers, teachers (lotteries provide an important source of income in states where the proceeds are earmarked for education) and state legislators (who quickly become accustomed to a steady stream of additional funds). These constituencies develop extensive influence over how lottery revenues are spent. They also have a strong impact on the nature of the games that are offered. In particular, they can lead to a proliferation of games with very low chances of winning and correspondingly high prices.