What is a Lottery?


The slang word lottery has many meanings, most of which are not related to the gambling game of the same name. It can refer to:

A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold for the right to draw prizes, usually cash or goods. It is often a form of public fundraising for state or other charitable purposes. It can also be used figuratively to describe any situation that appears to be determined by chance:to look upon life as a lottery.

Despite the enormous sums of money it raises, lottery criticism tends to focus on specific features of its operation rather than its overall desirability as a source of state revenue. These criticisms have ranged from alleged promotion of addictive gambling behavior to its regressive impact on lower-income individuals. These concerns are a consequence of the ongoing evolution of lotteries and an inherent conflict between the state’s desire to increase revenue and its duty to protect the public welfare.

The development of lottery systems is an example of a classic problem in the creation of public policy, in which decision-making is piecemeal and incremental. Once a lottery is established, its continuing evolution dominates the agenda of state officials. As a result, it is common for the original policies adopted in the establishment of a lottery to be overtaken by more specific features that are influenced by market forces. These developments may exacerbate alleged negative effects of the games, or even create new ones, without being fully considered and debated.