What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by lot or chance. It is often used as a source of revenue for public works projects.

Lottery is a classic example of the difficulty of making coherent and comprehensive state policy. The initial establishment of a lottery is often followed by a series of incremental changes, each driven by the needs and interests of specific constituencies. These are convenience store operators (who provide the tickets); lottery suppliers (who are heavy contributors to state political campaigns); teachers (in those states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education); and, especially, state legislators, who have quickly come to rely on the steady stream of revenue.

The earliest lotteries appear in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with records of raising funds for town fortifications and helping poor people. In colonial America, lotteries were used to finance a variety of projects, including building churches and college buildings. George Washington even sponsored a lottery to finance a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Scratch-off games are another popular form of lottery, with prizes ranging from merchandise to trips. These games are generally less expensive to produce than regular lottery draws, and they are advertised heavily in mass media and on the Internet. They have a particularly strong appeal to high-school educated, middle-aged men in the middle of the economic spectrum, who are the most likely lottery players.

Lottery is a source of revenue for governments, and is often seen as a way to avoid raising taxes by drawing on the generosity of private citizens who voluntarily spend money for the good of the community. The earliest state lotteries were created as a means of funding public works without increasing taxes, and many states continue to operate monopolistic lotteries that exclude competitors from their markets.