What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. Modern lotteries of this kind include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters.


Various sources suggest that the word lottery may have originated in the Middle Dutch lotinge, which means “drawing of lots.” In its early use, lotteries were used to finance private and public projects, including roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, bridges, and wharves. Some colonies also organized public lotteries to fund war efforts, such as in the French and Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War.

In the United States, lotteries were used to raise funds for public works and for construction of several American colleges. Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and King’s College (now Columbia) were among the early colleges that were financed by public lotteries.

The evolution of state lotteries is a classic case of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no general overview. Authority is divided between the legislative and executive branches, and pressures on lottery officials are often a result of a dependency on revenues that they can do little or nothing about.

The odds of winning a jackpot are very low, and the money you might win is often subject to taxation. As a result, many people who win the lottery end up worse off than before they played the lottery.