What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a process by which prizes are allocated by chance. It combines elements of gambling and public finance and is a means for raising funds to support a variety of purposes. It is one of the earliest forms of modern government finance and has been used in a number of states, though there are differences between state systems. The basic elements of a lottery include: a pool of tickets or counterfoils from which winners are selected; a drawing, a procedure that determines the winning numbers or symbols; and some form of record keeping to allow identification of the bettor’s ticket(s). Today’s lotteries use computers for many of these tasks.

Historically, public lotteries have been a popular method for raising money and have enjoyed broad public support. They have been a painless form of taxation and have raised large sums for a variety of purposes. Lottery proceeds also have been used to establish and support colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and King’s College (now Columbia). Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery during the American Revolution to try to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia from British attack.

A key element in gaining and maintaining public approval for state lotteries is that the proceeds are seen as benefiting a specific public good, such as education. However, studies have shown that the objective fiscal conditions of a state are not a significant factor in determining whether or when it adopts a lottery.