What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a gambling game that awards prizes based on chance. It can be played with cash or goods, and the prize money is usually a percentage of the total ticket sales. The word lottery is most likely derived from the Dutch word lot, meaning “fate.” The first state-sponsored lotteries were held in Europe in the early 15th century.

In the United States, state lotteries are a form of public funding for various public programs. Each state has its own lottery, but they all share some similarities. They each set up a state agency or corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing private firms in exchange for a cut of the profits); they begin with a modest number of relatively simple games; and they progressively expand in scope, introducing new types of games and increasing the size of the prizes.

One of the more difficult questions posed by lotteries concerns their impact on society. Because they are designed to maximize revenue, they must promote gambling among the general public and encourage people with low incomes and limited financial resources to play. Whether or not this is appropriate for the role of government raises a range of ethical issues.

A second important issue is how to allocate the prize money. As the frequency and size of lottery prizes increases, so do the costs associated with organizing and promoting them. Some of the cost is passed on to retailers; in some cases a percentage of the prize pool goes to organizers and investors; and the remainder, if any, is available for winners.

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