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What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random for the chance to win a prize. The casting of lots for decisions and fates has a long record in human history (including several instances in the Bible). Lotteries, however, are more recent; they have become common in many cultures to raise money for public projects.

Governments have a unique opportunity to use lotteries for public welfare, raising funds for education, infrastructure, and other worthy causes. They can also promote good character traits and help people to avoid addictive habits. But the state must decide how much it will profit from the lottery—a function that is at cross-purposes with the mission of promoting social welfare.

Most state lotteries operate on a similar model. They establish a state agency or public corporation to manage the lottery; start with a small number of relatively simple games; and, due to increasing demand for more and better gambling opportunities, gradually expand the variety of games offered. The state takes a substantial share of the pool—normally around 40 to 60 percent, including costs for organizing and promoting the lottery—and leaves the rest to winners.

Some players try to increase their chances of winning by playing every possible combination of numbers. Romanian mathematician Stefan Mandel, after winning the lottery 14 times, developed a formula that allows a person to do just that. He recommends charting the “random” outside numbers that repeat on each ticket and looking for singletons, or digits that appear only once.