What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a form of gambling wherein a prize, usually money, is awarded to a person or group of persons selected at random. A lottery requires three elements: payment, chance, and a prize. Federal statutes prohibit the mailing or transportation in interstate or foreign commerce of promotions for a lottery and the sale of tickets themselves, but there are exceptions.

In ancient times, people would draw lots to determine property distributions and other matters. This practice is referred to in the Bible and the Old Testament, where the Lord instructs Moses to distribute land to the people by lot (Numbers 26:55-56) and the Roman emperors often gave away slaves and property by lottery at Saturnalian feasts.

The lottery is one of the world’s largest industries, with annual revenues in excess of $150 billion. Although the lottery is a form of gambling, it is not regulated in the same way as casino gambling. In the United States, state and local governments are the leading operators of the lottery, with a combined market share of more than 90%.

Lotteries are a common source of public funding for both private and public projects, such as schools, libraries, roads, bridges, canals, and churches. In colonial America, lottery schemes played a role in raising funds for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and helped build many colleges including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, William and Mary, and King’s College. The Continental Congress also held a lottery to raise funds to defend the colonies from the British, and Benjamin Franklin’s “Pieces of Eight” lottery raised enough money to buy a battery of guns for the defense of Philadelphia.