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What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of winning numbers. The casting of lots to determine fates and decisions has a long record in human history, including several examples in the Bible. The first public lottery was organized by Augustus Caesar for municipal repairs in Rome.

A state lottery usually begins operations with a small number of relatively simple games and, due to pressure for additional revenue, progressively expands its game offerings. Often, it also increases its prize levels and adds other elements of promotion to attract potential players.

The rules of probability governing lottery games dictate that a player’s chances of winning do not increase by playing more frequently or buying more tickets. In addition, a portion of lottery revenue goes to administrative and vendor costs, and a smaller percentage is allocated to the prize pool. The remainder of the prize money generally goes to various projects designated by the state legislature.

Lottery games cannot be rationally accounted for by decision models that rely on expected value maximization. Because lottery tickets cost more than the expected prize, a person making the choice to buy such tickets would not be acting in his or her own best interest. However, many people consider the entertainment value of a possible win and the dream of becoming rich to be worth the cost of the ticket, so lottery purchases can be rational.

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