What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game of chance in which prizes (usually money) are awarded according to a random procedure. Lottery prizes can range from small items to substantial sums of money. The prize money is typically a fixed percentage of the total ticket sales. Some lotteries require that a purchase be made to enter; others are open to anyone who wishes to participate. In the strict sense of the term, a lottery is gambling, but in practice the word can also refer to other contests that depend on chance, such as military conscription or commercial promotions in which property is given away by chance, or even to the process of selecting jurors.

Lotteries were popular in the US during the early colonies, when they were used as a way to raise money for public education and to buy land. Later, they were used as a way to finance state projects. The Continental Congress held a lottery in 1776, which was unsuccessful in raising funds for the Revolution, but private lotteries continued to be common, as did “volunteer taxes” in which people paid to participate in the selection of college students and teachers.

One major message that lottery commissions rely on is that the games are fun, and they are marketed to the general population with slogans like “the odds are so fantastic you’ve got to play.” But that’s a falsehood. Lottery tickets are largely bought by people who consider themselves committed gamblers who spend a big share of their incomes on them. These players are disproportionately low-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male.