Lottery, in its broadest sense, is any system of distribution that determines the winners by chance. Prizes may be money, property, or services. Examples include raffles in which tickets are drawn for a prize, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure, and jury selection in which names of registered voters are drawn for a trial. The term is also used for government-sponsored contests in which money or property is awarded to a winner, and the drawing of lots for military conscription, marriage licenses, and other civil affairs. Generally, to qualify as a lottery there must be payment of some consideration for the chance to receive the prize.
The practice of determining the distribution of property by chance through the use of a lottery is found in many cultures. In the Bible, Moses is instructed to divide land by lot; ancient Romans had a popular dinner entertainment called the apophoreta, in which guests received pieces of wood with symbols on them at the beginning of the meal and toward the end of the evening were drawn for prizes to take home (no, not slaves).
State-sponsored lotteries are widespread today. Some are run by public agencies, while others are private enterprises with state supervision. The modern lottery industry has grown tremendously, largely because of innovations in ticket formats and sales techniques that have allowed for a much greater degree of consumer choice. Lottery games are available online, in person, over the phone, and through mobile applications. Most of these games are played using a Player-Activated Terminal, which is a free-standing self-service device that accepts cash or other forms of payment and allows the player to select, play, and register a game.
While the benefits of a state lottery are substantial, critics often argue that gambling is an inappropriate function for government at any level and that replacing taxes with these revenues will increase rather than alleviate the problems of problem gambling, social ills, and other concerns. However, the reality is that once a lottery is established, its policies and operations are driven by ongoing market forces and by the need to generate revenue.
For example, lottery advertising focuses on persuading consumers to spend their money on the game and to keep playing even after they have won. Revenues grow rapidly after a lottery is introduced, but they eventually level off and may begin to decline. As a result, the introduction of new games is required to maintain or increase revenues.
In colonial America, lotteries were a major source of income for public projects, including roads, schools, churches, canals, and ports. Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British, and Thomas Jefferson held one to relieve his crushing debts. In addition, many private lotteries were conducted in the 18th century, with some raising funds for educational institutions like Harvard and Yale. In the modern era, the lottery has become an essential source of income for many states and a critical element in their economic development.