What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a system of distributing prizes by lot. The practice of making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long history, including several examples in the Bible; but the distribution of property for material gain is much more recent: the first recorded public lottery was held by Augustus Caesar for repairs to the city of Rome, and the earliest lottery to offer tickets with money prizes was probably that in Bruges in 1466, organized to raise funds to help the poor.

In modern times, a lottery is typically a government-sponsored game in which a series of numbers or symbols are drawn at random to select winners. The winning number or symbols are then awarded a prize, which may be anything from a lump sum of cash to goods or services. A key element of all lottery systems is the drawing itself, which must be done at random to ensure that chance determines the selection of winners. This may be achieved by shaking or tossing the pool of tickets or counterfoils, or by using computerized systems that randomly select and mix the ticket data.

The primary argument for the adoption of a state lottery is that it is a source of “painless” revenue, based on the premise that people are willing to pay money for the chance to win a large prize. Lotteries are also promoted by the fact that they provide a way for governments at all levels to spend more, without increasing taxes.