What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to those whose numbers are drawn by lot. The concept of choosing who gets something by the casting of lots has a long history (it is recorded in several documents in the Bible). The modern practice of lottery is usually sponsored by a state as a means of raising revenue.

Lottery draws on a wide range of public support: convenience store owners (the usual distributors); state legislators and agencies (who quickly become accustomed to the extra money); suppliers of tickets, services, and advertising; teachers in states that allocate lottery funds for education; and a general public with strong fantasies about winning big. The fact that lottery profits can be very large adds to the attraction.

As with most other forms of gambling, the problem of compulsive gamblers and regressive impacts on low-income groups remains a concern. However, these issues generally do not have much to do with the actual fiscal health of state governments. Lotteries operate as businesses, and they must maximize revenues. This is a function that may run at cross-purposes with the overall public interest.

The truth is that a substantial percentage of the lottery pool must be used for organizing and promoting the games, as well as paying for employees and other expenses. As a result, only a small portion is available to the winners. This can leave players with a feeling that they are being shortchanged.