What is a Lottery?


Lottery (countable)

A competition in which prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance. Usually, there is more than one stage of the competition. The term lottery is sometimes used to refer to a more complex arrangement that involves more than one phase, such as an athletic competition or a game of cards.

In the seventeenth century, it was common in Europe for local councils to organize lotteries to raise money for township improvements and other public usages. These were hailed as a painless form of taxation and were popular with the public. Eventually they spread to state governments, which in the eighteen-seventies adopted their first lotteries. By the early nineteen-eighties, thirteen states (including New Hampshire, a notoriously tax-averse state) and the District of Columbia had lotteries. In the United States, many people viewed lotteries as beneficial, since proceeds went to benefit a particular public cause. However, studies suggest that the objective fiscal circumstances of a state have little influence on whether or when it adopts a lottery. In fact, lottery revenues are responsive to economic fluctuations; as a result, ticket sales increase as incomes fall and unemployment rises, but they decline when taxes go up. Moreover, research suggests that lottery marketing efforts are biased toward low-income neighborhoods.