What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a game of chance in which participants pay for numbered tickets, and prizes are awarded to those who match numbers drawn by chance. It is similar to raffle, except that the amount of money won depends on the number of numbers matched, rather than on how many tickets are purchased. In a national lottery, the prize money can be large. Local lotteries may award much smaller prizes, such as free admission to a musical event or a gift certificate. The word is probably derived from Old Dutch hlot, which is related to the English word lotte (again from Old Dutch hlot), both of which mean “action of drawing lots.” Lotteries in the Low Countries were first recorded in the 15th century, and the earliest state-sponsored lotteries in England were held in the 1740s.

A common element of a lottery is some means of recording the identities of bettors and the amounts staked by them. Then, the bettors’ numbered tickets are shuffled and entered into a pool from which prizes can be drawn. Various administrative costs and profits are normally deducted from the pool, leaving the remaining prizes for winners.

In most states, the bulk of lottery revenue comes from players in the bottom 20 to 30 percent of incomes. They are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. So while the prevailing message of lotteries is that everybody can win, it’s also that playing is a “civic duty” and a way to help society.