What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which tokens are sold for a chance to win a prize. Traditionally, the tokens were drawn or otherwise selected by lot, with the prize being either money or property. More recently, the term has been applied to other activities that depend on random selection, such as military conscription and commercial promotions in which properties or prizes are given away to customers who respond to a promotional offer.

Most state-run lotteries follow the same general pattern: the government legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public agency or corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing private promoters in return for a percentage of profits); begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the lottery by adding new games. In some cases, the expansion has been dramatic. In others, it has been more gradual.

The expansion of state lotteries is in part a result of the resurgence of anti-tax sentiment in many states and, at the same time, the success of lottery advertising campaigns. These marketing campaigns often present misleading information about the odds of winning, inflate the value of winnings (in some countries, a winner must choose between receiving the prize as an annuity or as a one-time lump sum, and inflation and income taxes dramatically erode the current value of any such payout);

Furthermore, because state lotteries are primarily run as business enterprises with an eye to maximizing revenue, their advertising typically focuses on persuading particular groups to spend more than they can afford on tickets. Critics charge that this promotion of gambling is often at cross-purposes with the public interest, particularly in terms of its negative consequences for the poor and problem gamblers.