What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a game in which people buy numbered tickets and the winners are determined by chance. It may be distinguished from other games of chance, such as a coin toss, because the outcome depends solely on luck or chance (Webster’s New World College Dictionary). The first state-sponsored lotteries were held in Europe during the 15th century; their name, “lottery,” comes from the Middle Dutch word loterie, a calque on Old French loitere, meaning “to play at the lottery.”

While Americans have poured billions into lotteries, winning a prize remains highly unlikely. The odds of winning a lottery prize are approximately one-in-four hundred and fifty thousand, or roughly the same as the chances of being struck by lightning. Yet the popularity of lotteries suggests that some people do want to try their luck, or at least believe that they can be one of the few winners.

Many states have established a state lottery to raise money for a variety of public purposes, including education and roads. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) has found that, on average, ten percent of all adults play the lottery, and most players spend about half a year’s income or more. Most of these people are in the lower-income quintiles and a substantial share come from black households.

The NGISC has also found that state-sponsored lotteries are not well regulated and that lottery players have little information about the rules of their particular lottery. In an attempt to improve transparency and accountability, the NGISC recommends that state lotteries disclose winning amounts and prizes awarded, and that they publish the names of winners and their state of residence. Lottery operators have adopted modern technology to maximize revenue and maintain system integrity. They are committed to offering fair outcomes for all American participants.