What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a type of gambling game in which people buy numbered tickets. A prize is then drawn at random, and whoever has the winning ticket wins the prize. People often play the lottery for money, and it is a source of billions in revenue annually. However, the odds of winning are very low.

Lotteries have a long history, dating back to ancient times. The Old Testament has a number of references to the distribution of land by lot, and the Romans held lots for slaves and property during Saturnalian revelries. In the United States, public lotteries date to the first decade of the 17th century and accounted for a large share of public funding in that period. Lotteries helped build American colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Princeton, and helped pay for public projects such as roads, canals, and bridges. They also supported military ventures, including thomas jefferson’s debt relief and benjamin franklin’s purchase of cannons for Philadelphia.

Modern state lotteries capitalize on the public’s love of games of chance and its need for instant gratification. They raise enormous sums of money for state governments and offer a tempting alternative to higher taxes. Supporters call them honest, efficient revenue-raisers that do not skirt taxation; opponents describe them as dishonest and unseemly, with a hidden social cost that affects poor people disproportionately. In 2002, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia held lotteries that drew more than $42 billion in proceeds.