What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a game in which tokens (often tickets) are sold for the chance to win a prize. The winners are selected in a drawing. Modern lotteries include gambling games, commercial promotions in which goods or property are given away by a random procedure, and even the selection of jurors for court trials. The term is derived from the Dutch word lot, meaning “fate” or “chance.” Its use in English dates back to the mid-15th century.

The earliest recorded lotteries were probably conducted in the Low Countries during the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and poor relief. The word lottery is likely derived from Middle Dutch loterij, a diminutive of the phrase “to take fate”; the latter phrase was common in many languages of the time.

Modern state-run lotteries generally begin with legislation establishing the monopoly for a public corporation, followed by a period of planning and development. They usually begin with a few modest games, and – to ensure long-term profitability – gradually expand the number of available offerings. They also typically require a percentage of the pool to go to costs, advertising, and profits for the organizer or sponsor.

The popularity of a lottery seems to be determined primarily by the degree to which it is perceived as a tool for raising money for a specific public good, such as education. This argument is effective when the state’s fiscal condition is deteriorating and may have some bearing on the decision to introduce a lottery, but it does not seem to have much impact on its success once established.