What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a game in which prizes, such as money or goods, are allocated by chance to a number of participants. The concept has been around for centuries, with examples appearing in the Bible and a drawing of lots to determine ownership or rights to land in ancient Israel and Rome. Modern state lotteries use computers to record the identities of bettors and the amount they stake, with tickets containing numbers or symbols deposited for shuffling and selection in a drawing. Some lotteries are financial, in which people bet small amounts of money on the chance of winning a large prize, while others award prizes like college scholarships or medical treatment to selected persons.

In the United States, lottery games began in the early seventeenth century. Lotteries raised funds for towns, wars, and public-works projects. The first of these grew to include a number of elite universities; Harvard, Yale, and Brown all received part of their founding money through lotteries. The popularity of lotteries exploded in the 1960s when New York introduced a lottery. By the end of the decade, twelve other states had started lotteries (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia).

A lottery has three elements: consideration, chance, and a prize. Consideration can mean any sort of payment, including a donation. The prize may be any sort of good or service, including a car, jewelry, or a new house. If the entertainment value of a lottery is high enough for an individual, then the negative utility of a monetary loss can be outweighed by the positive utility of the non-monetary gains from playing the lottery.