What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a form of gambling wherein you try to win a prize by matching a set of numbers. It is an incredibly popular activity in which people spend billions of dollars each year. There are many different types of lotteries. Some are instant-win scratch off games, while others require a person to choose a series of numbers on a playslip or online. Most of the time, winning the lottery requires a person to match all six of the numbers that are drawn.

The term “lottery” is probably derived from the Dutch noun lot (“fate”) or, as some scholars suggest, from Middle French loterie (“action of drawing lots”). However, the history of lottery-like arrangements dates back much further. The ancient Hebrews used it to distribute property among a group, as did Roman emperors to give away slaves or other items at Saturnalian feasts.

In the early days of American independence, the Continental Congress attempted to establish a national lottery as a way of raising funds for the revolutionary army. Although that attempt was abandoned, state-sponsored lotteries became very popular and were used to fund such public projects as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Union College, and William and Mary.

State-sponsored lotteries are big business and rely on specific constituencies to maintain their popularity and generate revenue. These include convenience store operators (who are often the lotteries’ main suppliers); teachers in states in which a portion of the revenue is earmarked for education; and state politicians who seek lottery money as a painless alternative to raising taxes.