What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a form of gambling in which tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize, often money. People also use the term to refer to games in which numbers are drawn to determine winners, such as the daily numbers game in the U.S. The first European public lotteries to award money prizes appear in the 15th century, with towns attempting to raise funds for town fortifications and aiding the poor. The Dutch state-owned Staatsloterij still operates the oldest running lottery (1726).

There are many different types of lotteries, but all share certain features. First, there must be some way to record the identities and amounts staked by bettors. Typically, this is done by having each bettor write his name on a ticket or other symbolic document that is deposited for shuffling and possible selection in the drawing. A second requirement is a mechanism for determining the winning numbers or symbols. This can take the form of thoroughly mixing the pool or collection of tickets or their counterfoils by some mechanical means, such as shaking or tossing, or by using a computer to generate random numbers.

The third requirement is some way of allocating the remaining value of the prize to the winners. Normally, the cost of organizing and promoting the lottery and a percentage of the total revenue are deducted from this pool, leaving the remainder available for the prize. Some lotteries offer only a few large prizes, while others distribute a single large prize along with several smaller ones. Potential bettors seem to prefer the latter option, a preference that is evident from the fact that lottery sales tend to rise when jackpots grow to apparently newsworthy levels.