What is a Lottery?


The word lottery comes from the Latin for “dividend,” or “allotment.” It refers to a scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance. The word has also been used figuratively to refer to any event or enterprise that seems to be determined by chance: “Life is a lottery.”

Lotteries are classic cases of public policy being made piecemeal and incrementally, with the result that the needs of the overall state are only taken into account intermittently if at all. Lotteries are usually established as state monopolies with a state agency or public corporation to run them, and they begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. Due to the constant pressure for additional revenues, however, they inevitably expand in size and complexity.

A number of states began their own lotteries in the immediate postwar period, when there was a perception that they could fund a variety of services without having to increase taxes on middle-class and working-class taxpayers. This expansion was particularly pronounced in the Northeast, which has large Catholic populations that are generally tolerant of gambling activities.

The basic requirements for a lotteries are that there must be some means of recording the identities and amounts staked by the bettor, and that these tickets be grouped together for a drawing. Then, a percentage must be deducted for expenses and profits for the organizer and its sponsors. The remainder is the prize pool for the winning bettors. Some bettors want many large prizes, while others prefer a few smaller ones.