What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game where a person has a chance to win a prize, usually money, by selecting numbers in a drawing. It is often run by governments, though it can also be private. The earliest lotteries date back to the fifteenth century in the Low Countries, where towns held public lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and charity for the poor. The word “lottery” is derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate, and in English the verb to lot (“strike or draw”).

Cohen’s argument starts in the nineteen-seventies, when America’s obsession with unimaginable wealth collided with a crisis in state funding. As populations grew and inflation rose, it became harder for states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, which they knew would be wildly unpopular with voters. So they turned to the lottery, which they pitched as a budgetary miracle: a way for states to make money appear out of thin air.

In a typical lottery, participants pay a fee to participate in the draw, which they can later redeem for a prize (typically money). Then they bet by writing their names or other symbols on tickets that are collected and shuffled for a random selection. A percentage of the ticket price is usually used to cover administrative and promotional costs; the remainder, the jackpot, goes to the winners. In a well-designed lottery, the probability of winning is proportional to the number of entries.