What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which you pay something, usually money, for a chance to win a prize, such as property or a car. The prize may be a fixed amount of money or goods, a percentage of the total receipts from ticket sales, or something else. In the strict sense, lottery must have three elements: payment for a chance to win, a prize, and consideration. Examples of lotteries include those that award prizes based on a drawing or matching numbers, such as the financial lottery; those that determine who will get a job at a company or in a government agency; and those that distribute housing units in a subsidized apartment building or kindergarten placements in a public school.

The term lottery is from the Old English hlot, an object used to distribute something or a share in property, and ultimately from the Proto-Germanic root khlutan (source also of German los). The first state lotteries were organized in the 15th century, and the modern word was printed in English in 1569, probably as a calque on Middle Dutch loterie (from lottere, derived from Old Dutch lout “lot, share”).

Lottery is popular in the United States, with thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia generating revenues of more than $42 billion in 2002. Its supporters argue that it is a quick and easy way to raise money for state projects and, unlike higher taxes, does not create resentment among voters. Opponents contend that it is a form of corruption and that the social costs outweigh the fiscal benefits.