What is a Lottery?


Lottery, noun, (also lot’@ ree) a gambling game in which a large number of tickets are sold and prizes are determined by chance. The word is believed to have been derived from lot, from the Dutch noun for “fate” or “chance.” In Old Testament times Moses was instructed by God to conduct a census of Israel and divide it into lots for inheritance. Later, Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by lottery. It was not until the Revolutionary War that ten states banned lotteries for a time, but then they quickly returned to popularity.

In the United States state governments use lotteries to raise money for a variety of public purposes, including education. However, a great many consumers are not aware that lotteries involve an implicit tax rate of up to half the ticket price. In addition, lottery proceeds often do not provide enough money to cover all of the expenses associated with the lottery, so some states must pay high fees to private advertising firms to boost ticket sales.

The reason why people play the lottery is that they like to gamble, and in a society with limited social mobility, there is a certain appeal in betting on one’s own luck for instant riches. This is why you see billboards for the Powerball and Mega Millions dangling the promise of a new life. Yet for all the hype and the irrational behavior, most people know that the odds are long and the only way to win is to be very lucky.