What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a form of chance, based on the drawing of lots. The word is derived from the Latin lotium, meaning ‘fate’ or ‘chance.’ Historically, lotteries have been used for everything from allocating land to military units and determining tax rates. In the United States, state lotteries are an important source of funding for public schools and other social services. However, there are significant concerns about the legitimacy of these games and their effect on the welfare of the people who play them.

Lottery revenues typically expand dramatically after being introduced, and then level off or decline, requiring constant introduction of new games to maintain or increase sales. Moreover, most lottery players are not compulsive gamblers, but rather individuals who purchase tickets out of a desire to fantasize about what they would do with millions of dollars.

Despite these problems, lotteries remain popular in many states. They are able to achieve broad public approval by convincing citizens that the proceeds benefit a specific, tangible public good, such as education. Lottery revenues are a major component of the overall budgets of many states, and they often offset cuts in other areas.

For most lottery players, the monetary loss associated with purchasing a ticket is outweighed by the entertainment value and other non-monetary benefits that they receive. Indeed, the origin of gambling can be traced to ancient times. Among the earliest records of lotteries are keno slips that date to the Chinese Han Dynasty (205–187 BC). Other early evidence includes a passage in the Bible where Moses was instructed to draw lots to distribute land, and the Roman practice of giving away slaves by lottery.