What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a form of gambling in which lots are purchased and one is drawn at random to win a prize. Some governments outlaw lotteries, while others endorse them to a degree and regulate them. The game must be run so that each ticket has an equal chance of winning.

The term “lottery” comes from Dutch, a word that means fate or luck. State-sponsored lotteries were common in Europe for centuries, raising funds for everything from poor relief to public utilities and even to paving streets and building churches. The early post-World War II period saw a rapid expansion of social safety nets, and the lottery was seen as an easy way for states to expand services without onerous taxes on middle and working class citizens.

Lotteries are marketed as being a good thing, and the message is that even if you don’t win, you’re doing a civic duty to play. This is a dangerous and deceptive message because lottery profits are derived from people who have a distorted view of how much money matters in their lives.

Lotteries sell themselves to a broad group of consumers, and they rely on super-sized jackpots to generate interest. These jackpots also provide a windfall of free publicity on news sites and on TV, which can bolster sales. But it’s the top 20 to 30 percent of lottery players that drive sales, and this player base is disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male.