What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes given to the holders of numbers drawn at random. It is often used as a means of raising money for public purposes. Also called lotto, state lottery, and keno.

The first lotteries in Europe were held during the 17th century, and by the 18th century they had become very popular. During the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British. Lotteries were hailed by some politicians as a painless form of taxation, because they allowed people to spend their money on something they enjoy while helping the state in the process.

In most cases, bettors pay a small fee to purchase a ticket that has a number or other symbol(s) printed on it. The ticket is deposited with the lottery organization and, when the drawing takes place, a number or symbols are chosen at random from those on all tickets. The bettor then finds out whether or not they have won.

Many people buy lotto tickets in the hope of winning a large prize. In the US, tickets are available in gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, banks, nonprofit organizations (including churches and fraternal groups), service stations, restaurants and bars, and bowling alleys. Approximately half of all retailers that sell the tickets offer them online as well. According to the National Association of State Lottery Directors, in 2003 there were nearly 186,000 retailers that sold lotteries. Almost all of the retail outlets are privately owned, and about three-fourths of them also sell food or drink products.