What is the Lottery?


The lottery is a form of gambling in which players pay a small amount of money for a chance to win a prize, usually a sum of money. The practice has a long history, with references in the Bible (e.g., the Lord instructing Moses to take a census and divide land by lot) and Roman emperors using it to give away property and slaves. It has also become a common method for states to raise funds and support a variety of public services.

In most cases, the government legislates a monopoly for itself, establishes a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery, and starts with a modest number of relatively simple games. Then, under pressure to increase revenues, the lottery progressively introduces new games to maintain or even increase revenue.

The term “lottery” is believed to be derived from Middle Dutch lootjere, or “action of drawing lots.” The first modern state-run lotteries began in the 16th century, though they may have been preceded by privately operated games. In the early years of the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin promoted a private lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.

Today, state-run lotteries are generally much more sophisticated than the primitive raffles of old, with tickets purchased for a future drawing that might be weeks or months away. In the United States, there are about 30 lotteries and they generate some $5 billion in revenues each year. Yet, the vast majority of people who play are not rich; most have only a tiny sliver of hope that they will win.