What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which tokens are distributed or sold, and the winner is secretly predetermined or ultimately selected by random drawing. In most lotteries, prizes are cash or goods. Often, a percentage of the proceeds from a lottery is donated to charity. Lotteries may be conducted by private entities or government agencies. A lottery is a form of gambling that has become widespread and controversial, particularly in the United States.

The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate.” It was borrowed into English around 1600, with the first state-sponsored lottery appearing in print two years earlier. The word is believed to be a calque of Middle French loterie, which was itself a loan from the Italian verb lottare, meaning “to draw lots.”

Throughout history, people have used the lottery to raise money for all sorts of things. The most common are public lotteries that offer large cash prizes. These are usually governed by federal or state law and must be conducted fairly to protect the interests of the winners. Private lotteries are also common and are often called scratch-off games. These are similar to the larger public lotteries in that the winning numbers are drawn randomly, but they have lower payouts and require fewer number selections.

Lotteries are popular with citizens because they can be a painless way to pay for needed goods and services. They can be held to raise money for a variety of purposes, including housing units in a subsidized rental apartment complex or kindergarten placements at a local school.