What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a game in which people purchase numbered tickets that have some value and hope to win a prize based on the luck of the draw. The term is also used to describe any game whose outcome depends on chance or luck, including the stock market. A lottery can be played in person or over the Internet. The first recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries in the 15th century. They raised money for town fortifications and to help the poor. The Chinese Book of Songs (2nd millennium BC) mentions a game of chance involving “wood drawn by lots.”

State governments have long promoted lotteries as a source of “painless” revenue, in which voters and politicians alike can participate voluntarily to benefit the general public. But the fact is that these governments have become dependent on this form of gambling and are constantly pressured to increase the amount of money it raises.

The key to winning and retaining broad public approval for lotteries is that the proceeds are seen as benefiting a specific public good, such as education. This argument works especially well in times of economic stress, when it is feared that taxes would have to be increased or public services cut. But as Clotfelter and Cook point out, this is not the only explanation for the popularity of state lotteries, which also gain broad public support in periods when state governments are in sound financial condition.

One reason for this enduring popular appeal is that, unlike most forms of government-sponsored gambling, lotteries do not discriminate among the players. No set of numbers is luckier than any other set, whether you are black, white, Mexican, fat or skinny, short or tall, republican or democrat.

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