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What is a Lottery?

LOTTERY: A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize, usually cash or goods. Some governments outlaw lotteries, while others endorse them to the extent of organizing state or national lotteries. The chances of winning are small, but the prizes can be substantial. The word is also used figuratively to refer to any arrangement or process in which something is allocated by lot, especially as a means of raising funds for public purposes.

In general, there are a number of common elements in all lotteries. First, there must be some way to pool the money staked by all bettors. A percentage of this amount normally goes to costs and profits for the lottery organizers and for promoting the contest, leaving the rest available for prizes. A decision must then be made whether to offer a few large prizes or many smaller ones. Potential bettors seem to prefer large prizes, which encourage ticket sales and enlarge the pools from which winners are selected.

A second requirement is some procedure for selecting the winning numbers or symbols. This may be as simple as shuffling the tickets or counterfoils and selecting a winner from among them, or it may involve a more complicated mathematical procedure, such as the use of computers that record each bettor’s selection and then randomly select one or more winners. In the latter case, the tickets or their counterfoils are often thoroughly mixed mechanically, for example by shaking or tossing them, before the winner is selected.

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