What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine the winner. It also refers to any method of distributing property or prizes by chance, whether it be a lottery for military conscription, commercial promotions in which people can win property or work, or jury selection. The word Lottery is thought to derive from Middle Dutch loterie, a calque on Middle French loterie, or from the Latin verb lottere, meaning “to draw lots” or, more literally, “fate”. In modern use, it also refers to the game of winning a prize by matching all the numbers in a given lottery.

In the immediate post-World War II period, states began to establish lotteries as a way of raising money for new social safety net programs without raising taxes that would hurt poor and working class residents especially hard. This was particularly true in the Northeast, where populations were generally tolerant of gambling activities and where Catholicism provided a religious veneer for state sponsored lotteries.

The most common message of the lottery industry is that winning a large sum of money is easy, you just have to play often enough. This is a subtle message that obscures the regressivity of the lottery’s operation, and that also glosses over the fact that most people who play the lottery do not make the big bucks. It is a message that plays into an inextricable human impulse to gamble and hope for the best, but it is one that also obscures the real nature of the lotteries business and the regressive effect they have on society.