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What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a gambling game or method of raising money in which tickets are sold and prizes are drawn for at random. It is also used to describe anything whose outcome appears to be determined by chance: “Life is a lottery.”

The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or fortune. It was used in the 17th century to raise funds for a variety of public uses.

To choose the winners of a lottery, the tickets must first be thoroughly mixed; this is usually done by shaking or tossing them, although computers are increasingly used for this purpose. Then the tickets or their counterfoils are extracted in a drawing, by some mechanical procedure such as drawing numbers, scratching off counterfoils or using computer programs. This ensures that the winning ticket or tickets are selected solely by chance, and that no one person or group has an advantage over others.

The winnings from a lottery are not a straight percentage of total sales, as in a normal tax; instead, they are awarded according to a formula that includes the number of tickets sold and the value of the prize. Many people believe this makes lotteries unfair, because those who buy tickets are paying a hidden tax without knowing it. But the truth is that state governments need a way to fund their services, and the immediate postwar period was a time when states could expand their array of social safety nets without having to increase taxes on middle class and working-class families.