A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are awarded by chance to people who buy tickets. People can play the lottery for money or goods. The word is also used to refer to any process whose outcome depends on chance, such as a football game or a job interview.
In the United States, most states have lotteries. The government regulates them. People pay a small amount to purchase a ticket. They might win a big prize, such as a car or a house. Some people try to increase their odds by using a variety of strategies. These strategies don’t improve their chances very much, however.
The lottery is a popular source of revenue for state governments. In 2002, it generated $42 billion. Its supporters praise it as a painless way to raise money for government purposes. But opponents say that the game’s social and administrative costs outweigh its revenue. In addition, they argue that the lottery is a form of regressive taxation, in which the poor and working classes bear more of the burden than the affluent.
People have held lotteries since ancient times. The Bible describes a numbering system for giving away land (Numbers 26:55-57). Roman emperors held lotteries to give away slaves and property during Saturnalian festivities. A popular dinner entertainment in the 17th century was the apophoreta, in which each guest received a piece of wood with a number written on it and then won prizes ranging from expensive dishes to horses.
Some of the early American colonists played lotteries to win land. After the United States was founded, Congress passed a law authorizing lotteries in all the states and the District of Columbia. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, lotteries provided funds for a wide range of public usages. Thomas Jefferson used a lottery to retire his debts and Benjamin Franklin bought a battery of cannons for Philadelphia through the city’s lottery.
Most modern lotteries involve picking numbers. The prize money varies from state to state, but it may include cash, cars or houses. Some states offer multiple games with different jackpot amounts. Some have games in which players pick three or four numbers, while others have more complicated games that require selecting a sequence of numbers.
In some cases, the winning numbers are chosen by computer. If nobody wins, the prize money rolls over to the next drawing. People can also play a private lottery, in which they choose their own numbers and compete with other players for a prize.
Life is a lottery, some people say. Your future might be bright if you win the lottery, but you could end up with nothing. And if you lose, you might get stuck with a huge debt or a depressing apartment. In either case, you’ll need luck to get ahead. These examples are automatically selected from various online sources and do not reflect the views of Merriam-Webster or its editors.