Lottery is a form of gambling in which participants pay a small amount of money for a chance to win a large prize. Lotteries can raise funds for a variety of public uses. A lottery is usually organized by a state or a private corporation and overseen by a commission.
The word comes from the Dutch verb lot, meaning fate or destiny, and has been used since the 17th century to describe the distribution of prizes by chance, or a game of chance. In medieval times, objects bearing the names of the contenders were placed with others in a receptacle and shaken; the winner was the one whose name or mark fell out first, hence the expression to cast lots (or to draw lots).
Although there is some inextricable human urge to gamble, there’s more to lotteries than that. They dangle the dream of instant riches in a time of inequality and limited opportunities for economic mobility. This regressive swindle is especially harmful for poorer people who have less disposable income. They can’t afford to play the lottery on a regular basis, so they are lured by the prospect of winning big on rare occasions. This is why scratch-off games—which make up 60 to 65 percent of all lottery sales—are so regressive. They’re the bread and butter of lottery commissions, and they tend to draw disproportionately from lower-income, less educated, nonwhite populations. The more expensive lottery games—Powerball and Mega Millions, for instance—are much less regressive, but they still pull in only about 15 percent of all lottery revenues nationwide.