What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game in which numbers or symbols are drawn to determine a winner. Prizes may consist of cash, goods or services. Lotteries have a wide appeal because of their relatively low cost, easy organization, and ability to raise large sums of money for public purposes. The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible. The modern revival of lotteries began with New Hampshire in 1964, and nearly every state has now a state lottery.

The basic element of all lotteries is a pool or collection of tickets and their counterfoils that must be thoroughly mixed by some mechanical means before the winners are selected by drawing. Computers have increasingly become an important part of this process. Lotteries have strict rules to prevent the rigging of results.

Almost all states use lotteries to raise funds for a variety of public services. In addition to education, the most popular services are roads and bridges. Lotteries are a relatively cheap source of revenue, unlike sin taxes on gambling, alcohol and tobacco, which have historically been imposed by governments to raise revenue.

Many state lotteries generate large initial revenues, but then begin to level off or decline. They are constantly trying to introduce new games to maintain or increase revenues. New games are also designed to attract a younger, more diverse audience and to keep players interested. This approach obscures the regressivity of lottery revenue, but it is still there.