Lottery is a game in which tokens are distributed or sold, and a prize is awarded to those who have the winning token or tokens. Lotteries are often viewed as painless forms of taxation, and they are popular among young people in many parts of the world.
In colonial America, lottery games financed public utilities like canals and bridges, as well as private ventures such as the founding of several American colleges—Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, William and Mary, and King’s College (now Columbia). The first European lottery was probably organized in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders, where towns raised money for local usages and defenses by selling tickets.
There’s the inextricable human impulse to gamble, which lotteries capitalize on. But there are other, more troubling things that state governments are doing when they promote their lottery games. They’re dangling the possibility of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility.
The term is from Dutch loterje, which in turn comes from the Dutch noun lot meaning “fate.” A lottery has three elements—payment, chance, and a prize. Payment can be cash or goods or services. The prize is usually something tangible such as a car or a vacation. A prize can also be an intangible, such as a prize point or a free ticket. Federal law prohibits the promotion of lotteries by mail, but many states allow it on TV and radio. Lotteries are a fixture of modern life and generate billions in revenue each year.