What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an arrangement by which prizes are allocated by chance. The prize money can be anything from a modest cash sum to a large house or automobile. Almost all lotteries require some form of record-keeping, and the identification of entrants and their selections. Some lotteries are run by governments; others are private businesses, such as casinos or television stations. In the modern world, most lotteries involve a computer program to randomly select numbers and allocate prizes.

Lotteries are popular in many countries, contributing billions of dollars each year to state coffers. But they are not without controversy. Some people consider them addictive, and studies suggest that those who play frequently have lower quality of life than those who do not. And the odds of winning are slim–you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than becoming a millionaire through the lottery.

The word lottery comes from Latin loterie, a combination of Latin ltr, meaning “to draw lots” and the root liter, meaning “to read.” The first recorded lotteries were held in the Roman Empire for the purpose of raising funds for public works, and they also served as entertainment at dinner parties. In this type of lottery, each guest would receive a ticket to be drawn for a prize.

The popularity of lotteries increased dramatically in the colonial era, partly because of exigency. Early America was short on revenue and long on need for public works, and lotteries were an appealing alternative to taxation. Harvard, Yale and Princeton were financed in part through lotteries, and the Continental Congress attempted to hold a lottery to help pay for the Revolutionary War.