What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a gambling scheme in which tickets with numbers on them are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of those numbers. Lotteries are often run by governments to raise money for various public purposes.

The first known lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. They were hailed as painless forms of taxation, and they became extremely popular.

Almost every state in the United States has a lottery. In 2013, more than 57 million people played the national games. Many people play regularly; a recent survey found that 13% of Americans played more than once a week (“regular players”), while a smaller number played one to three times a month (“occasional players”). The majority of lottery participants are male and middle-aged. They are more likely to be high-school educated and white. They are also more likely to work in the health care or retail industries, and they are less likely to live in poverty than non-lottery-playing adults.

Lotteries are profitable because they charge a relatively small percentage of the total amount paid for the tickets as fees and commissions. A portion of this is used to pay out the prize winnings, and a larger percentage goes to the cost of organizing and promoting the lottery. Retailers of lottery tickets generally take a cut as well, including convenience stores, gas stations, some restaurants and bars, nonprofit organizations such as churches and fraternal groups, service stations, bowling alleys, and newsstands.