What is a Lottery?


Lottery, also known as lotto or the state lottery, is a gambling game in which tokens are sold and a drawing held to determine the winner. A number of the tokens are reserved for prizes, while others are used to generate revenue for a particular purpose such as building a school. The origin of the word is uncertain but it may derive from Middle Dutch loterie, or from Old French lotere, or from the Latin verb lotere, meaning “to draw lots” (as in casting the dice). It has been in use as a form of gambling since at least the 15th century.

In most states, a lottery is a state-sponsored enterprise that sells tickets in order to raise funds for public purposes. The first modern state lottery was established in New Hampshire in 1964 and many other states have followed its lead. Lotteries are generally popular, and the proceeds from them can be a painless way for governments to raise money.

The popularity of lotteries is generally linked to the perception that the proceeds are devoted to some kind of public good, such as education. However, research has shown that the objective fiscal circumstances of a state do not appear to have much bearing on whether it adopts a lottery or not. Regardless of their origins, all state lotteries follow similar patterns: the state legislature legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public corporation to run it; begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then gradually expands the offering of new games in order to attract more participants and increase revenues.