What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a type of gambling wherein participants wager money on the outcome of a drawing for a prize. Prizes may be cash or goods. It is a common practice for a portion of the proceeds to be given to charities. The word lottery is believed to be derived from the Dutch phrase “lotgerij” (“fate-drawing”), which itself may have been a calque of Middle French loterie (see lot).

The casting of lots for a decision or to determine a fate has a long history in human society; the first public lottery was recorded in 1445 at Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges. Lotteries are usually run by governments and their advertising necessarily targets specific groups of people: convenience store owners (the usual vendors for tickets); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions from those companies to state political campaigns are frequently reported); teachers (in states where a portion of the revenues is earmarked for education); and other members of a state’s community.

As a source of tax revenue, a lottery has broad appeal to voters and politicians. The basic argument is that the benefits outweigh the costs: citizens voluntarily spend their money for the benefit of the state, rather than having it imposed on them as a tax. However, as the initial excitement of a lottery subsides, revenues typically level off and may even decline. This leads to the introduction of new games, in order to re-energize participation and maintain revenues. Moreover, once lotteries are established, the debate shifts away from the general desirability of them to more specific issues such as their negative impact on problem gamblers and the regressive nature of their impacts on low-income groups.