What is a Lottery?


A scheme for distributing prizes, especially money, by chance. Lottery is a type of gambling game in which people buy numbered tickets and the winners are chosen by lot. People also use the term to refer to other arrangements in which what happens depends on luck or chance: ‘which judges are assigned to a case is a bit of a lottery’.

The drawing of lots to determine property, rights, or even life is a practice with a long record in history. The Old Testament contains a number of references to dividing land and giving away slaves by lottery. The Roman emperors used lotteries to distribute goods and even property. In the 15th century public lotteries were organized in the Low Countries to raise money for town fortifications and poor relief. The first lottery to offer tickets bearing particular numbers and to award prize money is recorded from 1466 at Bruges. Privately-organized lotteries are also common.

While lotteries are popular, there are many critics who believe that they lead to compulsive gambling and have a regressive effect on lower-income groups. Some state governments regulate and run lotteries, while others delegate the task to private companies. Lotteries are a major source of income for some states. In the United States, a state must approve a lottery before it can be operated. The size of the jackpot is often a factor in ticket sales, and large jackpots receive much free publicity on news websites and television.