What is a Lottery?


Lottery is a traditional gambling game in which people purchase tickets for a chance to win a prize, typically money. But the word lottery is also used to describe any contest whose winners are chosen by chance, such as a competition for units in a subsidized housing complex or kindergarten placements at a public school. The New York Times recently ran an article about the draft lottery, which determines how the 14 non-playoff teams will select their first-round picks in the NBA draft on May 16.

Historically, governments have promoted and operated lotteries as painless forms of taxation. In colonial America, for example, lotteries provided the funds to build libraries, churches, canals, and bridges. Lotteries were also an important source of income for the militia during the French and Indian War.

The practice of determining the distribution of property per batch dates back to antiquity, with a biblical example in Numbers 26:55-56) instructing Moses to conduct a census of the people of Israel and divide their land by lot. It was also common at dinner parties in ancient Rome to distribute pieces of wood with symbols, then draw for prizes that guests took home after the meal.

Modern lotteries are regulated by state law, with a lottery division at the Department of Finance responsible for selecting and training retailers to sell lottery products, licensing retailers, providing assistance to those retailers in promoting their lottery products, paying high-tier prizes, and overseeing compliance with lottery laws and rules. In addition, the division operates the Statewide Central Purchasing System to administer the process of awarding contracts for a variety of services, including printing and mailing lottery tickets, processing claims, and purchasing zero-coupon U.S. Treasury bonds.