What Is a Lottery?

As the state lotteries have evolved, their growth has been driven by political interests. In the beginning, they were a way for states to expand their social safety net without increasing taxes on middle-class and working class families. Later, they were seen as a revenue source to alleviate the pressures on the state’s general fund. This was especially true in the immediate post-World War II period, when many states had large welfare and social services programs but had strained government budgets.

In its broadest sense, lottery refers to any competition in which money or prizes are allocated by a process that relies entirely on chance. This definition is broad enough to include anything from kindergarten admissions at a reputable school to the lottery for occupying units in a subsidized housing complex, as well as the one that occurs when someone wins a major sporting event.

The term “lottery” is probably derived from the Middle Dutch word loterij, meaning “action of drawing lots.” Its Latin equivalent is loterie. Its French equivalent is lotterie, which may be a calque on the word l’action.

It’s also important to realize that lottery is a form of gambling. People who play it spend their own money on the hope of winning a prize, and they risk losing that money. This is a form of risk-taking that, even when it’s legal and regulated by the state, is psychologically the same as any other gamble. Moreover, the fact that lotteries are a form of gambling necessarily entails that they promote it, and that promotion is done in the name of maximizing revenues.

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