What is a Lottery?


In the United States, people spend billions on lottery tickets every week. Some play the lottery to pass the time and others believe that winning will grant them a better life. The reality is that the odds of winning are very low. However, if the entertainment value (or other non-monetary benefits) received by playing outweighs the disutility of the monetary loss, then buying a ticket may be a rational decision for an individual.

A lottery is a contest in which tokens are distributed or sold and the winners are determined by chance, usually by drawing lots. The word is from Old English hlot “what falls to someone by lot,” which is from Proto-Germanic *khlutam (compare Old Frisian hlot, German Los). The practice of holding lotteries is common in many countries, and it was once an important source of revenue for public projects. For example, Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery in 1769 to raise money for the purchase of cannons to protect Philadelphia.

Today, most lotteries are based on computer systems that record the identities of bettors and the amounts staked by each. The bettor writes his or her name on a ticket, which is then deposited with the organization for later shuffling and possible selection in a drawing. The amount of the pool returned to bettors tends to be between 40 and 60 percent. The rest of the money is used to pay prizes, often a lump sum of cash.