What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game of chance in which numbers are drawn for prizes. It is one of the most popular games of chance in the world, with a worldwide annual turnover exceeding $100 billion. It is the only form of gambling authorized by law in most countries. People have been playing lotteries for centuries, as a way of raising money and distributing property. Lottery proceeds have also been used to provide a variety of public services, such as education, health care and social welfare.

In the United States, state lotteries have a long history and have been a mainstay of government revenue since the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery to raise funds for cannons during the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson attempted to hold a private lottery to alleviate his crushing debts. Privately organized lotteries sprang up as well, and helped finance some of the first American colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Union, William and Mary and King’s College (now Columbia).

State lotteries have evolved over time with little or no overall guidance from the legislature or executive branch. As a result, decisions on the development of the lottery are made piecemeal, and the general welfare is considered only intermittently. For example, state officials are quick to promote the message that a lottery is good for a state because it raises taxes; but the tax revenues generated by a lottery are a small percentage of total state revenue.