What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random to determine the distribution of prizes. Prizes can range from cash to goods, real estate, or even slaves. Lottery can also refer to the act of drawing a number from a group of applicants or competitors, or an event that relies on chance: “Combat duty is a sort of lottery” (American Heritage Dictionary). The term has been in use since the 17th century. The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications, although records from the ancient world suggest that they may have been much older.

State governments began to hold public lotteries in the 1960s to generate revenue for their social safety nets. Lotteries have been a major source of state revenues in the United States since that time. In 2002, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia collected more than $42 billion in lottery proceeds, which is a huge sum of money compared to the $1.5 billion they had collected just seven years earlier. Lotteries have become a controversial form of revenue raising, with supporters proclaiming them as easy revenue sources that skirt taxation while opponents arguing that they are dishonest, unseemly, and regressive.

Some people play the lottery because they like the thrill of winning and enjoy spending their hard-earned money in a way that makes them feel lucky. Others play the lottery because they believe that if they can win, they will be able to solve their financial problems. However, the odds of winning a lottery are very low and most people who buy tickets do not win. Lottery is a popular activity in the United States and contributes to its economy, but it should not be considered a reliable source of income.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Available at: http://www.ahdictionary.com/dictionary/lottery