A lottery is a game of chance in which people pay to have their names or numbers drawn. The winners receive a prize, often a large sum of cash or goods. There are many different kinds of lotteries, from the games that determine who gets to live in subsidized housing blocks or who gets a place at a good public school, to those that dish out multimillion-dollar jackpots. A lottery may have a fixed prize, or the organizers may set a percentage of the total receipts that will go toward prizes.
The word lotteries is a compound of the Middle Dutch and English words lot and erie, meaning “fate.” The name suggests fate because of the way in which lottery participants are assigned to winning or losing groups. It is also an expression of the idea that life, even for those who live in prosperous communities, is a kind of lottery where people are given chances to improve their lives.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European states began to organize national lotteries. These early lotteries were financed by the state for a variety of purposes, including building town fortifications and charity for the poor. As the popularity of these games spread, they became an important source of revenue for governments.
Lottery is a form of gambling, and it must be conducted fairly so that each participant has an equal opportunity to win. It must also be operated so that the money received from ticket sales does not exceed the cost of running the lottery. To meet these requirements, a lottery must have a system for recording the identities of the bettors and their amounts staked. The bettors may write their names on tickets or on numbered receipts, which are then deposited in the organization for later shuffling and selection in the drawing. Some modern lotteries have a computer system that records the identity of each betor.
A well-run lottery requires a system for record keeping and for the purchase, sale, or transfer of lots. It also must have a mechanism for determining the winner, and a method for collecting and pooling the stakes. This is usually done by a network of agents who sell the tickets and collect the money for each ticket. Each ticket is sold for a certain amount, and the winner is chosen by matching all of the winning numbers to those on the winning tickets.
In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, as the gap between rich and poor widened and job security disappeared for most working Americans, the desire to hit the lottery took off. It coincided with a national tax revolt that began in New Hampshire and escalated as people turned to local initiatives to avoid taxes on their homes, cars, or utilities. In the wake of these tax revolts, legalization advocates began to argue that a lottery could float a single line item in a state budget—generally education, but sometimes elder care or public parks.