What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a scheme for distributing prizes based on chance. Prizes are often goods or money, but they may also be services. Lotteries are usually run by governments as a painless way to raise funds for projects. George Washington ran a lottery to pay for the Mountain Road in Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin used one to raise funds for cannons during the Revolutionary War. In the United States, state governments have monopoly rights to operate lotteries; private firms are not allowed to compete with them. In 2003, forty-five states and the District of Columbia had lotteries. Most of the profits from these lotteries are used to fund public programs.

Most lotteries involve some sort of drawing to determine winners. The drawings can be as simple as shaking or tossing the tickets, or they can be more complex with sophisticated methods for randomizing the selection of winning numbers or symbols. The draw is usually supervised by an impartial official. The prize money for the winning ticket is generally set at a predetermined amount, and most lotteries offer multiple ways to win.

The purchases of lottery tickets can be rational according to a decision model that maximizes expected utility, but most people buy tickets because they believe that the entertainment value and fantasy of becoming wealthy are worth the price. Lottery games are particularly popular among middle-income Americans, and the tickets tend to be sold at higher prices than those of other forms of gambling.