What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine winners. These prizes can be cash or merchandise. The word lottery comes from the Dutch lotto, itself a calque on Middle English lotinge “action of drawing lots” (Oxford English Dictionary). The first state-sponsored lottery in America was established in New Hampshire in 1964. Since then, spending on lottery tickets has exploded. People who never ordinarily gamble now spend $50, $100 a week buying lottery tickets. It’s hard to believe, but some of them win.

In the United States, most state governments run a lottery. Some also operate a national lottery. The games vary, but most involve selecting winning numbers from a larger set. Some of the more popular options include instant-win scratch-off games and daily games such as Lotto.

Several common elements are found in all lotteries. One is the pooling of all money placed as stakes. This may be accomplished by a chain of sales agents who pass the amounts paid for the tickets up through their organizations until they are banked, or it may occur through an arrangement that allows bettors to buy fractions of a ticket at a higher cost than the entire ticket. The proportion of the prize that is returned to the bettors depends on the size of the pool, the costs of organizing and promoting the lottery, and the balance between large prizes and many smaller ones.

Another requirement for a lottery is a procedure for determining the winning numbers or symbols. This may be as simple as thoroughly mixing the tickets or counterfoils before separating them, or as complex as using a computer to simulate random selection. The result must be unbiased, so that each application receives a similar number of chances of winning as any other.