What is a Lottery?


The term lottery is used to describe an arrangement in which some people are selected for prizes on the basis of chance. This arrangement is often based on money, but it may also be based on other things, such as the right to attend a particular school or the right to get a job in a certain field. In addition to providing a means of allocating limited resources, lotteries are often thought to be addictive forms of gambling.

When the term lottery is applied to a state-sponsored game, it means that government at a particular level is running a monopoly that profits from a form of gambling, in which a portion of the proceeds are awarded as prizes to winning participants. It is not uncommon for governments to establish a lottery with the explicit purpose of raising funds to pay for a specific project, such as a school building or a new road.

The first records of lotteries date to the Low Countries in the 15th century, but the concept is ancient. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery in 1776 to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run state-sponsored lotteries. The six states that do not have lotteries are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada. These states are either religiously opposed to gambling or, in the case of Mississippi and Nevada, already receive substantial revenues from other forms of legalized gambling. In addition, these states are likely to be hesitant to introduce competing lotteries that might take a significant share of the existing profits.