A lottery is a game where people buy tickets and have a chance to win cash prizes. They can be state-run or any type of contest where winners are selected at random.

The term lottery dates back to the Middle Dutch word lotinge, which means “to draw a lot” (the Oxford English Dictionary states that it may have been derived from French lotte). In Europe, the first recorded lottery was held in Flanders in the early 15th century for the construction of a city wall.

Public Approval

In the United States, lotteries have consistently won broad public approval. This reflects the general public’s perception that lottery revenues benefit specific public goods such as education. This argument has been particularly effective in times of economic stress, when the prospect of tax increases or cuts in public services is a factor.


There are three basic elements to most lotteries: a way of recording identity, the amount staked by each bettor, and the number(s) or other symbol on which the money is bet; a method of selecting the winning numbers; and a procedure for distributing the winnings. The selection of winning numbers is usually made by mechanical methods, such as shuffling or tossing tickets, though computers have increasingly replaced the manual process in many modern lotteries.

The evolution of state lottery policies is a classic example of public policy being piecemeal and incremental. This means that public officials do not have a comprehensive overview of the industry or an ability to take into account the welfare of the general public in making policy decisions.