What Is a Lottery?

A state-run gambling game in which participants have the chance to win a prize by drawing lots. The prizes may be cash or goods or services, or they may be tickets to a future drawing. In the United States, lottery games are a major source of revenue for many state governments. In addition, people often play them for fun or in the hope of boosting their incomes. The popularity of these games has generated a wide variety of messages about their role in society.

The word lottery is believed to have originated in Middle Dutch loterie or Old French loterie, which in turn may be a calque on Middle English lotinge, “the action of drawing lots.” It is widely used in reference to the arrangement or allocation of something. Historically, such arrangements were made by the draw of lots, and they sometimes served as a means of decision-making or divination. They are now generally regarded as dependent on chance rather than skill.

Lottery advertising typically focuses on the experience of buying a ticket and the specter of winning, but it also obscures its regressivity. The large prizes that are offered by lottery operators encourage people to spend a significant share of their incomes on the games. To keep sales robust, they must pay out a good percentage of the revenue in prize money, and this reduces the amount that can be used for state programs such as education.

In the United States, most states conduct a state-run lottery and offer various games, including scratch-off tickets and daily numbers games. They are a popular source of revenue, but they are also a form of gambling that has been linked to poverty and mental illness.