The Definition of a Lottery

A gambling game in which tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. The word lottery comes from the Dutch verb lot, meaning “fate” or “merit.” In modern usage, however, the term is often used for any scheme of distribution by chance. It may include such varied activities as the award of military conscription prizes, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. The strict definition of a lottery involves payment for the chance to receive a prize, but this requirement is generally omitted from public lotteries.

The casting of lots to make decisions or determine fates has a long record in human history. The first known public lottery was organized by the Roman Emperor Augustus to raise funds for municipal repairs in Rome. Other examples are the distributing of gifts at dinner parties (see sortilege), and the drawing of names for a church tithe or endowment.

In the United States, state governments sponsor and regulate a variety of games that are played for prizes ranging from cash to land. The process of establishing a state lottery usually begins with legislation granting the lottery a monopoly and requiring that it be run by a government agency rather than a private corporation. The lottery typically starts out with a limited number of games and then, in response to pressure for increased revenues, gradually expands its operation by adding new games.