What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are granted to holders of numbers drawn at random. Lotteries are primarily intended to raise money for public services and charitable causes. They are not to be confused with games of skill such as bridge or chess, or with private gambling such as horse racing or dogfighting, in which the chances of winning are calculated and weighed before a wager is made.

As Cohen writes, in early America, a nation that was at once deeply religious and profoundly materialistic, state-run lotteries sprang up as a way to finance everything from the construction of churches to Harvard. In an era where states faced growing deficits, a rapidly expanding population, and a war that drove up inflation, balancing budgets became more and more difficult. Hiking taxes or cutting state-run services both threatened to alienate voters, and state politicians turned to the lottery as a way to make revenue appear out of thin air.

In the United States, most states regulate and run their own lotteries. The state-run lotteries are usually operated by a state agency, which is responsible for selecting and training lottery retailers to sell tickets and use lottery terminals, selling and redeeming winning tickets, paying high-tier prizes, and ensuring that the lottery complies with state law. Unlike private lotteries, which may be run by individuals, clubs, or other entities, state-run lotteries are generally operated by professional lottery operators and pay for high-tier prizes out of the proceeds from ticket sales.