What is a Lottery?


A game of chance in which tokens are sold and winners are selected by lot. It is often sponsored by a state or organization as a means of raising funds.

The earliest lotteries were organized by the Roman Empire, to raise money for repairs in the city. Ticket holders were given prizes in the form of articles of unequal value, including fancy dinnerware. The lottery is an addictive form of gambling that has been linked to a decline in quality of life for those who win the big jackpots.

In the immediate post-World War II period, states felt compelled to expand their array of social safety nets and needed new revenue sources. The decision that the best way to get this money was to offer a lottery is a troubling one. It assumes that there is no other way for governments to make money, and it assumes that the people who gamble in lotteries will be unable to resist the lure of wealth.

The first element in all lotteries is a mechanism for collecting and pooling all money that has been staked. Typically, this happens by having a hierarchy of sales agents pass the money paid for tickets up the organization until it is “banked.” Then all the tickets are thoroughly mixed by mechanical means—shaking or tossing—and the winning numbers or symbols are drawn in a random fashion. Generally, computers are used for this purpose because they can store and process large amounts of data quickly.