What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an arrangement where prizes, such as money or goods, are allocated to a group of participants by a process that relies on chance. The prize allocation may be simple or complex. A common example is the drawing of numbers for a prize in a sports contest, but it can also be used to allocate other things, such as kindergarten admission for children or units in a subsidized housing block. It can even be used to distribute prizes in a scientific experiment, such as the development of a vaccine.

Lottery games have a long history. The first recorded lotteries in the Low Countries were held in the 15th century to raise funds for building town fortifications and to help the poor. Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery to fund the American Revolution, but it failed. Thomas Jefferson once ran a private lottery to try to alleviate his crushing debts, but that attempt was unsuccessful as well.

Today, state governments operate lotteries with monopoly privileges and sell tickets only in their jurisdictions. Many other private companies also offer lotteries, and some states have multistate games. Most people purchase lottery tickets at convenience stores, drugstores, service stations, supermarkets, restaurants and bars, and other retail outlets.

Whether or not to play the lottery is a matter of personal choice for each individual. For some, the entertainment value or other non-monetary benefits of a lottery game outweigh the disutility of losing money.