Lottery is a game or method of raising money in which tickets are sold and prizes are drawn by chance: ‘Life is like a lottery—you have a certain number of chances to be lucky, and you have to take them when they come up.’
The term is first recorded in English from 1567, when Queen Elizabeth I of England organised a state lottery to raise funds for the “strength of the Realm and other good publick works.” It was probably the earliest example of the sort of scheme that has become so popular, although there were earlier unofficial lotteries based on the distribution of property among the people (see keno).
In many states, where it is legal, a lottery is a state-operated gambling game. It raises money by selling tickets to win a prize, such as a cash or goods jackpot. The proceeds from a lottery are often used for education, public health, or other public services. In the United States, lottery profits are usually taxable as income.
Historically, the principal argument in favor of lotteries has been that they provide painless revenue to state governments without increasing taxes. This is especially attractive in times of financial stress, when voters and politicians are clamoring for increased spending on social safety nets. But this dynamic does not explain the widespread popularity of state lotteries in general, as evidenced by the fact that they have been approved in almost every state, even in times when the states’ fiscal health is strong.