What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by chance. This type of lottery is often played on a regular basis by the general public, although some players may play very infrequently or not at all.


The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights is recorded in ancient documents. It became common in Europe in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and it was used by public and private organizations to raise money for towns, wars, colleges, and other purposes.

State Lotteries

A large number of states have established state lotteries, and many continue to do so. They follow a similar pattern: the state legislates a monopoly; it establishes a public agency or corporation to run the lottery, rather than licensing a private firm to do so in return for a share of the profits; the lottery begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games, and expands progressively in size and complexity due to constant pressure for additional revenues.

Players of state lotteries typically come from middle-income neighborhoods, though a substantial percentage of players and revenues are drawn from higher-income neighborhoods as well. In one study, “frequent” players — those who play more than once a week — were more likely to be high-school educated, middle-aged men in the middle of the economic spectrum than were other types of players.

Lottery jackpots are usually paid out in cash lump sums, but some jurisdictions allow the winner to choose between an annuity and a one-time payment. This allows players to plan for the future and minimizes the impact of any income taxes on winnings that are withheld.