What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a noun meaning:

A game in which tokens are distributed or sold, and prizes are awarded to those whose tokens are drawn by chance. Also, the result of a random selection process, as for students being accepted into an educational institution or company, or the method by which people are chosen for certain types of work.

The word lottery is believed to have been derived from Middle Dutch Loterij, itself a diminutive of Old Dutch sortilegij, which meant’selection by lot’, and in turn from Latin sortium, meaning “lots”. It was used as early as the 1st millennium BC for giving away property, slaves and other items of value, often as part of a dinner entertainment such as apophoreta or a Saturnalian feast. The practice continued in the Roman Empire, where emperors, such as Augustus, gave away goods and even property during public events.

In colonial America, lots were a common means of raising money for both private and public ventures. It is estimated that in the 1740s and ’50s more than 200 lotteries were sanctioned, and they helped fund colleges, libraries, roads, canals, bridges, and churches. The University of Pennsylvania was financed by a lottery in May 1755, and Princeton in May of the following year.

Winners of a lottery, particularly in the United States, usually have the choice to receive an annuity payment over time or one-time payment (cash, lump sum). The annuity option will probably yield a larger total amount over the life of the winning ticket, but not without paying income taxes, which vary by jurisdiction and how the annuity is invested.