What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a scheme for distributing prizes, especially cash or goods, by chance. It may also refer to any of a number of gambling games in which participants pay a small amount for a chance to win a large prize. Many states and other organizations organize lotteries to raise money for public or charitable purposes. Although some people have criticized lotteries as addictive forms of gambling, others use them to help support worthy causes.

The word lottery is derived from the Dutch phrase “lot geven” (“fate decided”), though it has been suggested that the English word is a calque on Middle Dutch loterie, or that it was borrowed from the French term for an act of drawing lots in a public lottery, ventura (again, presumably by way of Middle French). Early examples of lotteries were ad hoc activities to collect contributions for poor or other charitable purposes; these evolved into commercial and other state-sponsored lotteries.

In modern times, the underlying principle is that anyone willing to place a modest stake will have a fair chance of winning a substantial prize. Several elements are essential to the operation of a lottery. A third is a mechanism for collecting and pooling all of the money placed as stakes. A percentage of this total goes for organizing and promoting the lottery, and another percentage is taken out as profit or revenues to the sponsoring organization. This leaves the remainder of the pool available for paying out prizes.