What is a Lottery?

LOTTERY — The distribution of prizes to people through a process that relies entirely on chance, especially a system in which people pay for tickets and the winners are selected by drawing lots. A common example is the lottery for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school, although there are many other examples. The word lottery is probably from the Dutch noun lot “fate” (see fate). The first modern state lotteries were introduced in the United States in the immediate post-World War II period, when they were hailed as a painless way for states to raise money for a wide range of public uses without raising taxes on their middle class and working classes.

While it is true that the emergence of lotteries was driven by the need for state revenue, it is also true that they have enjoyed broad popular support, and remain popular even when states are not experiencing significant financial stress. In addition, research has shown that state government lotteries have a unique capacity to capture the attention of a wide audience that extends beyond the traditional core constituencies of convenience store operators and lottery suppliers and into the much wider group of potential voters who may not necessarily play but who nevertheless hear the state government’s message about how the proceeds from lotteries will be used.

In general, a large percentage of the revenue from lottery sales goes into the prize pool; the remainder is devoted to various administrative and vendor costs, and to projects that each state designates. To learn more about how your state allocates lottery revenues, visit the website of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

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