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What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a system in which tokens are distributed or sold and a drawing held for prizes. A prize may be a simple item such as dinnerware or an automobile, or it may be a sum of money. The word lottery is probably from Middle Dutch loterie, a calque on Middle French loterie, or from Middle English lotinge “action of drawing lots.” An event or happening that seems to depend on chance.

Lotteries enjoy broad public support, largely because they are portrayed as a painless form of taxation. They have also proved popular in times of economic distress because the proceeds are earmarked for specific public purposes.

Nevertheless, they are invariably subject to criticism regarding their negative social consequences, especially for the poor and problem gamblers, as well as their impact on state government finances. Yet, despite these concerns, the vast majority of state governments have adopted a lottery at one point or another and most continue to operate it.

Most state lotteries establish themselves as monopolies, with the government acting as both distributor and operator. Retailers earn a percentage of ticket sales as their primary means of compensation, and many have incentive programs designed to boost ticket sales by certain amounts. In this way, the retailer can be rewarded for helping lottery games to gain greater market penetration. As the reliance on chance increases in a lottery, however, it can become more difficult to distinguish between those who are playing just for the money and those who have a serious desire to win.

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