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What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random for prizes. It is not to be confused with other games of chance, such as a casino or card game, in which payment must be made for a chance to win a prize. The drawing of lots for the distribution of property or other valuables has a long history, with many examples in the Bible and in ancient Greek and Roman times. Modern lottery games may be used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away, and even to select members of a jury.

Lotteries have a broad popular appeal and are easy to organize. They are widely accepted as a useful source of funds for private and public projects, including education, roads, canals, and churches. In the American colonies, they played a large role in financing the Revolutionary War and building colleges, libraries, and churches. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British invasion in 1776.

State-sponsored lotteries have been very successful as an alternative source of revenue for governments, especially in an antitax era. But while they may raise funds for government, they also promote gambling and attract gamblers with low incomes. They also tend to be dependent on the gambling industry for marketing and advertising, and are at cross-purposes with other forms of government revenue. The result is a system that depends on and profits from an activity with serious negative consequences for poor people and problem gamblers.

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