What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes given to the holders of numbers drawn at random. It may be a competition for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements, but the term is also applied to any contest that involves an element of chance and for which people pay to participate.

Lotteries have a certain inextricable appeal to human nature. They promise instant riches and are often advertised on billboards, luring people into purchasing a ticket with the hope that they will be the next winner. But there is more going on than human behavior alone: Lottery games are promoted as a form of public service, promoting responsibility and good citizenship in an age of growing inequality and limited social mobility. And they are promoted to specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (the usual vendors of the lottery), suppliers (heavy contributions by lottery suppliers to state political campaigns have been reported); and teachers (in states where a portion of lottery revenues is earmarked for education).

In order to be successful, a lottery must strike an appropriate balance between prizes and odds. If the prize is too small, ticket sales will decline; if the odds are too high, the number of winning tickets will be low and the jackpot will not grow. In addition, the costs of organizing and promoting the lottery must be deducted from the pool; and a percentage of the pool is normally reserved as revenue and profits for the state or sponsor.