What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a system of selecting participants who have a chance to win something. It is often used in situations where the resources are limited, but still in high demand (such as kindergarten admission at a prestigious school or placement in a subsidized housing unit). Participants pay a small fee to be entered in a random selection process where they have a chance to win.

In the United States, state governments operate lotteries and have exclusive rights to sell them. Proceeds from state lotteries are used solely for government purposes. The prizes are usually large, but the odds of winning are low. Lottery play tends to be most popular among white, middle-aged men with some college education and an above-average income. They are more likely to be “frequent players,” purchasing tickets at least once a week.

Lotteries grew in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s as states struggled to raise revenue without raising taxes. Cohen writes that lotteries “appeared to be budgetary miracles, the opportunity for state legislators to generate hundreds of millions in revenue seemingly out of thin air without ever having to confront the politically unpopular subject of tax increases.” The result was a proliferation of lotteries across the country, with some states offering multiple daily drawings. In addition to their obvious monetary benefits, lotteries also offer the opportunity to make political points about social problems. For example, in New Hampshire, the first state-run lotteries were marketed as a way to support Catholic schools and help families with tuition costs.