What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by lot or chance. The prize, usually cash, is drawn from a pool of ticket purchases. Normally, a percentage of ticket sales is deducted as costs for organizing and promoting the lottery, with the remainder available as the prize fund. The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate.”

Lottery games are popular, and not just in the United States. The couple mentioned in the HuffPost piece made $27 million over nine years through games in Michigan and Massachusetts, even though the odds were only one-in-10,000. They did it by buying thousands of tickets at a time—essentially turning the lottery into a full-time job.

Despite the high-profile stories of big winners, most people play for a modest amount of money. They may enjoy the entertainment value, or they might feel that it’s part of their civic duty to support a public good. But the real reason is that they just plain like to gamble.

And while that’s great for state coffers, it’s not so great for low-income people and minorities—who tend to buy the most lottery tickets. Vox has a deep dive into why that is, citing study after study that shows lottery sales are disproportionately concentrated in poor neighborhoods. That’s probably not a coincidence, considering that studies have shown that lottery revenues are largely derived from gambling addiction. Read the whole article here.