What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize, often money. The name derives from the practice of drawing lots to decide matters in early history, especially as a form of divination.

Lotteries are a major source of state revenue and are growing in popularity. But many critics charge that they present misleading information about the chances of winning a prize (statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lightning or become a billionaire than to win the Mega Millions jackpot); they encourage addictive forms of gambling; and they can deprive poorer people of the incomes they could have earned working a normal job in a fair economy.

The earmarking of lottery proceeds for specific purposes is also controversial, as it allows the legislature to reduce the appropriations they would otherwise make from the general fund. Critics point out that this does not increase overall funding for the targeted programs, but simply shifts the burden from the general fund to other taxpayers.

The state lotteries have largely followed the same pattern: the government legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of profits); begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the lottery in size and complexity, particularly in the form of adding new games.