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What Is a Lottery?


A lottery is a gambling game in which participants pay money for a chance to win a prize based on random selection of numbers. Some governments outlaw lotteries, others endorse them and regulate them. Lottery can also be used to describe any process in which the outcome depends on luck or chance, such as the selection of jurors from lists of registered voters or the distribution of land plots to settlers in new towns.

Financial lotteries are among the most popular of all modern lotteries, where participants pay a small sum to try to win big cash prizes. Other types of lotteries include those for jobs, housing, or college admissions. Some governments even use lotteries to distribute tax dollars. For example, the Massachusetts state controller’s office uses a lottery to award funding for public education. This is often done to make sure the funds are distributed fairly, a consideration that many people feel is important.

The term lottery comes from the practice of distributing property by random drawing. The earliest public lotteries were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century for raising funds to build walls and town fortifications and to help the poor. The word was derived from Middle Dutch loterie, and a similar word in English is lottery.

Some states organize and promote state-sponsored lotteries that offer a fixed prize of cash or goods. Other states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, allow private companies to run their own lotteries. In either case, the prize money is usually a percentage of total ticket sales, meaning that winning tickets must be purchased from the organizers and that the winners must pay taxes on their winnings.

While some people may play the lotteries for fun or as a form of recreation, others believe that they can change their lives through the game. The advertisements that show people winning huge jackpots can be particularly misleading, suggesting that it is possible to win a life of luxury just by buying a ticket. In reality, the chances of winning are very low and it is best to think of lotteries as a form of entertainment rather than a way to get rich quickly.

These examples are automatically selected and do not represent the opinions of Merriam-Webster or its editors. They are programmatically compiled from online sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘lottery.’ View the full definition for lottery in our online dictionary.

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to illustrate the meaning of the word ‘lottery.’ Not all examples are explicit, but we strive to keep our language accurate and meaningful. If you find a definition of lottery that should be updated or clarified, please contact us.

These example sentences are automatically selected and do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors.

The state lotteries contribute billions of dollars to public education each year. To see how much is contributed to each county, click a county on the map or enter a name in the search box below.