What is a Lottery?


Almost any game in which money or goods are awarded to players through a process that depends on chance can be called a lottery. The game’s rules must specify how the winning numbers are chosen, and how the prizes are awarded. It must also provide a means for players to determine whether their ticket was one of the winners. This is often accomplished by writing their name and a number on a ticket that is deposited for shuffling or selection in the drawing, though modern lotteries usually use computers that record each bettors’ selections. In some cases, a bettor may choose to let the computer pick the numbers for them; this is sometimes offered as a free option or for a small subscription fee.

Lotteries have been around for centuries, and the concept is as old as civilization itself. But as Cohen explains, it was not until the late twentieth century that they became popular enough to become a major source of state revenue. Then they began to be marketed not as a way to raise revenue for everything from education to elder care, and, eventually, as a painless alternative to taxes.

This strategy worked, at least in part. People who play the lottery are generally wealthier than those who do not, and rich players spend about a tenth of their income on tickets. They also tend to buy fewer tickets than the poor, so their purchases do not contribute as much to the average jackpot size.