What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine winners of prizes. It may be conducted by government agencies or private corporations. Prizes can be cash, goods, services, or even real estate. The word lottery is believed to have originated in Middle Dutch as lotinge, perhaps a calque of Middle French loterie “action of drawing lots.” State-sponsored lotteries operate in forty states and the District of Columbia.

While making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long record in human history, using them for material gain is relatively recent; the first recorded public lottery to distribute prize money was held in 1466 in Bruges, Belgium. Since then, the lottery has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, with players chasing lightning strikes of fame and fortune. Whether those successes or failures are televised in spectacular fashion or merely recounted in the news, winning the lottery has become a dream of every American.

There are a number of things that make a lottery different from other games. One is that all participants have an equal chance of winning. Another is that the prizes are determined by a random drawing of numbers. And finally, there is a requirement that the game be played with money that has been paid for by the participants.

The purchase of lottery tickets cannot be accounted for by decision models based on expected value maximization, because the ticket costs more than the expected gain. However, more general models that incorporate risk-seeking and a preference for instantaneous rewards can explain why people buy tickets.