What is a Lottery?


A competition in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded by chance selections. It may be sponsored by a state or by a private corporation as a means of raising money. Generally, the term refers to any scheme of awarding a prize by chance, regardless of whether skill is involved. In addition, the term lottery can mean any scheme for distributing something that seems to be determined by chance: a lottery for units in a subsidized housing development or a lottery for kindergarten placements at a reputable public school.

Lotteries have proliferated in the United States during the past four decades, with some states spending billions of dollars each year on them. While the reason for that is a complicated story, Cohen’s simplest explanation is that they came into fashion at a moment when the country’s late-twentieth-century tax revolt was intensifying and state governments were desperately trying to find revenue sources that would not enrage voters.

Those alternatives were either raising taxes or cutting programs, and both options were highly unpopular with voters. As a result, many states turned to lotteries, which had long been popular in Europe and were hailed as “painless” forms of taxation.

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