What is Lottery?


Lottery is a method of raising money in which participants submit entries for prizes that are determined by random drawing. It is generally seen as an alternative to more direct forms of taxation. The earliest recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and help the poor, and there are records of private lotteries from earlier periods. Lottery operations are largely run by state governments, although private operators also operate lotteries.

Most modern lotteries use computers to record the identities of bettor and the amounts staked for each entry. The computer then shuffles the bets and selects entries for the drawing. Each bettor receives a ticket or receipt that indicates which numbers he or she has selected, and can later determine whether his or her ticket was drawn. The bettor may also choose to leave the selection process completely in the hands of the lottery organization by marking a box or section on the playslip to indicate that he or she wants to accept whatever set of numbers the computer chooses for him or her.

There is a great deal of debate about whether lotteries promote gambling or serve as a legitimate source of funding for public works and other programs. In the United States, for example, lotteries have been used to fund public buildings and colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, MIT, Brown, William and Mary, Union, and King’s College (now Columbia). Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery in 1776 to try to finance his campaign to buy cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British, but the effort failed.

One of the primary arguments used to justify state lotteries is that they serve a public good by promoting education and other socially desirable goals. Lottery revenues usually increase dramatically after their introduction, but then level off and sometimes even decline, so the state must introduce new games to maintain or increase the amount of money raised. This constant effort to boost revenues raises questions about the integrity of state lotteries, especially because many critics believe that lottery advertising is misleading and inflates the value of winning.

Moreover, because lotteries are government-sponsored activities, they raise ethical issues about the extent to which state governments should be involved in promoting gambling. Some critics argue that promoting lotteries encourages compulsive gamblers and has other negative consequences, while others point out that lottery advertising tends to be targeted at specific groups—convenience store owners (the usual vendors for state lotteries); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions by these companies to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers (in states in which lotteries provide a significant portion of school budgets); and legislators (who often become dependent on lottery profits). A further problem is that if the money raised from lottery sales is not earmarked, it can quickly become part of the general fund, where it can be easily shifted to support other priorities when the economy turns bad.