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What is a Lottery?


A form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize a state lottery or national gaming commission.

The casting of lots as a method of decision-making or divination has a long history (including several instances in the Bible), but lotteries to distribute prize money are more recent, dating to at least the Low Countries in the 15th century for raising funds for town fortifications and poor relief. The word “lottery” probably derives from Middle Dutch lotinge, a calque on French loterie, which itself may be from Latin lotteria, meaning “fate”.

In the modern sense of the term, people pay for tickets, select groups of numbers or have machines randomly spit them out, and win prizes if their numbers match those selected in a random drawing. The financial lottery is perhaps the most famous, but other lotteries award prizes for things like housing units in a subsidized apartment complex or kindergarten placements at an academically rigorous public school.

Regardless of the specifics, lottery is widely regarded as an effective way for states to raise large amounts of revenue for public usages without imposing especially onerous taxes on middle-class or working-class residents. This arrangement is popular with voters and, despite some controversy, has been generally effective in raising needed cash. However, the recent proliferation of games and lottery advertising aimed at specific groups have prompted renewed scrutiny of whether the practice is serving the public interest.