History and Definition of a Lottery


A lottery is a gambling game in which prizes are assigned by chance. It is often a form of raising funds for public and private ventures, such as school admissions or vaccines against rapidly spreading disease. It is also a way of assigning housing units, or obtaining spots in a sports team or on a military expedition. In the financial lotteries, people buy tickets for a small amount of money in order to have a chance at winning a much larger prize. The word is derived from the Latin Loteria, meaning “selection by lot.” According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a lottery is an arrangement in which tokens are distributed or sold, and the winner is chosen by chance. The prize is usually money but may be other things, as well. The first recorded examples of lotteries are keno slips from the Han dynasty in China, dating back to 205 and 187 BC. Later, Europeans held many public lotteries to raise funds for projects such as bridges, canals and roads. Privately organized lotteries were very popular in the colonial United States, where they helped build several American colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), Union and William and Mary.

Lottery is often criticized for its role in encouraging reckless behavior. But those who play the lottery often have a strong commitment to their hobby and spend a significant portion of their income on buying tickets. They may also spend considerable time and energy pursuing their hobby, which they regard as a worthwhile activity. In fact, some people who never gamble elsewhere are quite dedicated to the lottery and even spend $50 or $100 a week on tickets. They defy the stereotypes that are sometimes used to describe them as irrational and gullible, but they still know that playing the lottery is a risky activity and they are likely to lose money in the long run.

Whether it is to purchase a new car, a vacation or home improvements, people are willing to take a chance in the hope of winning a large sum of money. It is this desire for a big payoff that makes lottery so popular. But is it a good idea? This article explores the history and definition of a lottery and looks at how to manage your money in light of its use.

The concept of lotteries dates back to antiquity. In the Bible, for example, Moses is instructed to divide property amongst the Israelites using a lottery. In the 15th century, towns in the Low Countries began to hold public lotteries as a way to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. Privately-organized lotteries were also common in England and the United States. These often offered gifts such as silver or furniture, which would be given to every ticket holder. These prizes were commonly referred to as “apophoreta,” or that which is carried home. This type of lottery was similar to the distribution of prizes during Saturnalian dinner parties by wealthy noblemen in ancient Rome.