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What is a Lottery?

Lottery (pronounced LOT-ter-ee) is an event in which tokens or entries are distributed or sold, and the winners are predetermined by lot. Prizes are typically small sums of money or goods. Lotteries are generally legal and heavily regulated. Government at all levels use them to raise funds for a variety of public projects. They are also used to reward athletes, public servants and military personnel.

The word lottery is derived from the Latin word loterii, meaning “to draw lots” or “a selection by lot.” The lottery was first introduced into England in 1612, and its popularity spread. In colonial America, lotteries helped finance a variety of private and public ventures, including roads, canals, churches, schools, wharves, and the founding of Harvard and Yale universities. Lotteries were particularly popular in the 18th century, raising money for both wars and public works.

Most states have state-sponsored lotteries, and operate a lottery division with its own staff to administer the contests. The divisions usually license retailers, train employees to work with lottery terminals, redeem tickets, sell high-tier prizes and other products, distribute advertising materials, and educate the public about the state’s gaming laws.

State data show that lottery players come disproportionately from middle-income neighborhoods, with far fewer playing from low-income areas. The poor tend to play less frequently than their counterparts in other income groups, and they do so despite the Bible’s command not to covet money or things that money can buy (see Ecclesiastes 5:10-15). Lottery ads reinforce the false impression that winning the jackpot is the only way out of poverty, and encourage people to spend money they don’t have.