What is a Lottery?

A game of chance in which numbered tickets are sold and numbers chosen at random; those with the winning numbers receive prizes. Usually state-sponsored, it is considered an alternative to higher taxes and a painless way for states to raise money for various public usages. The word lottery is believed to be derived from Middle Dutch loterie, a compound of Old Dutch lot (“fate”) and terie (“to draw lots”).

At the outset of the American Revolutionary War the Continental Congress used a lottery to raise money for the colonial army; Hamilton was the first person to write of it in print, writing that “Everybody will be willing to hazard trifling sums for the opportunity of gaining considerable gain.”

By the eighteenth century states had adopted lotteries to fund everything from roads to jails to schools and colleges. Many famous Americans, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, played them to retire their debts or buy cannons for Philadelphia.

Today, lotteries are a huge business. In the United States alone Americans spend over $80 Billion on them annually – that’s over $600 per household. While the chances of winning are slim, the costs of playing can add up over time and often end up hurting those who play regularly. They may find themselves relying on credit cards and other high-interest loans instead of saving for retirement or paying off their home. Those who do win are often found to be worse off than they were before they won – and in some cases even bankrupt within a few years.