What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a form of gambling that offers people the chance to win a large sum of money. It is usually run by state governments, and people pay a small amount of money (typically one dollar) to play the lottery. The prize money can range from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars. Most lotteries also provide a smaller prize for people who do not win the big prize. The money that is paid out to winners is much greater than the dollar spent to buy a ticket, so lotteries always make a profit for the government.

The popularity of lotteries depends on the degree to which people perceive them to be a public service. In general, states and lotteries promote their products by stressing that they are a source of “painless revenue,” wherein players voluntarily spend their money to benefit the public good. This argument is especially effective when states are facing fiscal stress and threaten tax increases or budget cuts.

The word “lottery” derives from the Dutch verb lot (“fate”), a calque of Middle French loterie “action of drawing lots.” The first modern state-sponsored lotteries emerged in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders in towns that wanted to raise money to fortify their defenses or help the poor. Francis I of France began a national lottery in 1539 with the edict of Chateaurenard. Since then, many other states have established lotteries and continue to maintain broad public support for them.