What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a gambling game in which players purchase numbered tickets. People with the winning numbers win a prize. The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot meaning “fate” or “chance.” The practice of determining distribution of property by lot is ancient, as evidenced by a number of biblical and Roman examples.

The first lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in cash were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century, but they may be even older. In the early days, towns used them to raise money for walls and town fortifications, as well as to help the poor.

In modern times, state-sponsored lotteries are the most common type of lottery. They are usually regulated by state law and overseen by a lottery board or commission. These departments often select and license retailers, train employees of those retailers to use lottery terminals, distribute promotional materials, redeem winning tickets, pay high-tier prizes, and ensure that all retail and playing practices comply with the law.

The biggest revenue generators for lottery commissions are scratch-off games. They make up 60 to 65 percent of total lottery sales. They are the most regressive, because they target poorer players. The second biggest are the big jackpot games. They draw the highest percentage of revenue from upper-middle-class players, who buy a few tickets a year when the jackpot gets big. But overall, they are still regressive because most lottery playing comes from the 21st through the 60th percentile of income distribution.