What is a Lottery?

A gambling game in which tokens are distributed or sold and a random drawing is held for prizes. The prize money may be cash or goods. The practice of making decisions or determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history, with some examples in the Old Testament and Roman emperors’ use of lotteries to give away property and slaves. The modern lottery, which involves the sale of tickets for a chance to win a prize, is usually regulated by the state and conducted by a public agency.

The word lottery is thought to have originated in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with town records from Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges indicating that public lotteries were being held for raising money for wall construction and for helping the poor. It is also possible that the English word came from French loterie, which itself may have been a calque on Middle Dutch lotere “action of drawing lots.” State governments typically establish their own monopolies and set up public corporations to run them; begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then expand their offerings in order to increase revenues, while maintaining an image as non-taxed sources of government funds. But there are many reasons to be skeptical of the claims made by state officials who promote their lotteries.