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What does lotteries mean dictionary?

A lottery is a form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers at random for a prize. Lotteries are outlawed by some governments, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a national or state lottery. It is common to find some degree of regulation of lottery by governments; the most common regulation is prohibition of sale to minors, and vendors must be licensed to sell lottery tickets.

Lotteries come in many formats. For example, the prize can be a fixed amount of cash or goods. In this format there is risk to the organizer if insufficient tickets are sold. More commonly the prize fund will be a fixed percentage of the receipts. A popular form of this is the “50–50” draw where the organizers promise that the prize will be 50% of the revenue. Many recent lotteries allow purchasers to select the numbers on the lottery ticket, resulting in the possibility of multiple winners.


The word lottery derives from the Dutch noun “lot” meaning “fate”. Lottery games have a long and interesting history spanning thousands of years. Some of the earliest recorded lotteries to provide funds for public works occurred during the Roman Empire. The word lottery itself first appeared in the English language in the 15th century. It came from the Dutch noun “lot” meaning “fate”.


The first recorded signs of a lottery are keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. These lotteries are believed to have helped to finance major government projects like the Great Wall of China. From China, the idea of lotteries spread to other parts of the world.

In the Roman Empire, lotteries were used mainly as entertainment at dinner parties. Guests received tickets for prize drawings at these events. The prizes were usually fancy items such as articles of silver plate.

In 1465, the widow of the Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck held a raffle to dispose of his remaining paintings and nets a profit equivalent to £1.2 million today. It is one of the earliest known lotteries, and set the stage for lotteries as a form of common entertainment and fundraiser.

Lotteries became even more popular in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century, lotteries funded the Virginia Company, owner of the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown. Lottery proceeds helped build the town’s fortifications, churches and colleges like Harvard.

By the 18th century, lotteries funded public works in other colonies like repairing infrastructure damaged during the French and Indian War. Countries like France and England used lotteries widely during this period. Private and public lotteries in England raised money for projects like making canals, building bridges, expanding towns and starting wars.

Types of Lotteries

There are several basic types of lotteries:

Raffle Lottery

This is the simplest and one of the oldest forms of lotteries. Participants buy numbered tickets for a chance to win a prize. The organizer draws tickets at random, and the holder of the chosen ticket wins a prize. Raffles are common for small scale lotteries like fundraisers, charity events, etc.

50-50 Draw

This is a common lottery format for fundraising events. Half the money collected from ticket sales goes to the prize fund, and organizers keep the other half. The prize is usually a percentage of the revenue. Tickets are drawn randomly, and winner gets the prize pool.


Lotto is one of the most popular lottery formats today. Players choose a set of numbers from a range (e.g. 1-50). Organizers draw numbers at random, and players match their selections to win prizes. Matching all numbers usually wins the jackpot. Lotto games often have secondary prize tiers if players match some numbers.

Instant Win

Instant win scratch cards have prizes printed underneath a coated scratchable area. Players scratch off this area to reveal prizes instantly. Lottery organizations sell these tickets at retail outlets like convenience stores. Instant win games offer immediate gratification compared to weekly or biweekly lotto draws.

Daily Draws

These lotteries offer draws on a daily basis rather than weekly or biweekly. Players can win smaller prizes ranging from free tickets to thousands of dollars every day. Daily draws help sustain player interest and ticket sales between major jackpot draws.

Progressive Jackpots

These lotteries feature increasing jackpot prizes that grow larger every time there is no winner. Small percentages of each ticket sale contribute to the increasing jackpot until somebody finally wins it. Mega Millions and Powerball are two of the biggest progressive lottery jackpots.

Famous Lotteries

Some of the biggest and most famous lotteries today include:


Powerball is arguably the most widely known lottery in the United States today. It is available in 45 states, Washington D.C. and the U.S Virgin Islands. Powerball holds the record for the biggest jackpot in lottery history at $1.586 billion shared by 3 winners in January 2016.

Mega Millions

Mega Millions is the other hugely popular lottery alongside Powerball in the United States. It is run in 45 states plus D.C. and the Virgin Islands. Mega Millions holds the record for second-largest jackpot ever at $1.537 billion won in South Carolina in October 2018.


Euromillions is a transnational lottery played across nine European countries. Draws take place in Paris every Tuesday and Friday. Euromillions has the record for Europe’s biggest lottery jackpot of £195 million shared by two winners in July 2022.


Italy’s national lottery run by government monopoly Lottomatica. SuperEnalotto has some of the best odds to win (1 in 622 million) and holds the record for biggest jackpot payout in Europe at €209 million in October 2019.

El Gordo

Spain’s famous “Fat One” lottery held each year before Christmas. First held in 1812, it is the world’s biggest lottery with €2.24 billion in prize money. El Gordo’s top prize in 2021 was €400,000 shared by 172 raffle numbers.

Famous Lottery Winners

Some notable winners of huge lottery prizes include:

Mavis Wanczyk

In August 2017, Mavis Wanczyk from Massachusetts won a $758.7 million Powerball jackpot, the biggest prize ever won by a single ticket. She chose a lump sum payout of $480 million before taxes. Wanczyk worked for over 30 years in a medical center.

Manuel Franco

In April 2019, 24-year old Wisconsin resident Manuel Franco claimed a $768 million Powerball jackpot. It was the third biggest lottery prize in U.S. history. Franco chose the cash lump sum payout option getting $477 million pre-tax.

Gloria Mackenzie

At age 84, Gloria Mackenzie won a $590.5 million Powerball jackpot in May 2013. Mackenzie’s ticket, purchased randomly at a Florida supermarket, was the biggest undivided lottery jackpot ever won by a single ticket.

Andrew Whittaker

West Virginia builder Andrew Whittaker won a $315 million Powerball jackpot in December 2002. At the time it was the biggest undivided lottery jackpot ever won by a single ticket. Whittaker donated 10% of his winnings to Christian charities.

Richard Lusting

In 1996, Richard Lusting won the second biggest Mega Millions jackpot in history worth $540 million. Lusting reportedly spent lavishly on homes, cars and helping relatives pay debts. But he has also donated generously to medical research.

Unluckiest Lottery Players

Some incredibly unlucky players have missed out on jackpots due to lost tickets or other circumstances:

Two-Time Loser

In March 2019, Mike Weirsky lost a $273 million Mega Millions ticket. When he found it 2 days later in a gas station, the jackpot had rolled over to $325 million. Weirsky won this time, making him the unluckiest lottery winner ever.

Denied by Clerk Error

When a winning $6 million Colorado Lotto ticket printed in 2003, clerk Pam Howard thought it was unsold. She threw it away before realizing her mistake. The prize went unclaimed in spite of a store search.

Trash Luck

A woman discarded a $28 million winning Pennsylvania Lottery ticket in the trash in 2014 after mistakenly thinking it was a loser. By the time she realized weeks later, the ticket could not be retrieved or claimed.

Misprint Heartbreak

In 2001, a winning $46 million Lotto Texas ticket was declared void because of a retail misprint. A county judge later also ruled the ticket invalid, denying the $46 million jackpot payout to the ticket holders.

Never Came Forward

A record $77 million Powerball prize went unclaimed in Georgia in June 2011 after the ticket owner never came forward. The ticket would have earned a $40 million cash payout after taxes if claimed before the deadline.

Odds of Winning the Lottery

The odds of winning a big lottery jackpot are astronomical and vary depending on the game:

  • Powerball: 1 in 292,201,338
  • Mega Millions: 1 in 302,575,350
  • EuroMillions: 1 in 139,838,160
  • SuperEnalotto: 1 in 622,614,630

The chances decrease for smaller secondary prizes:

  • Powerball Match 4+PB: 1 in 913,129
  • Mega Millions Match 4: 1 in 21,846
  • EuroMillions Match 4 + 2 Stars: 1 in 11,907
  • SuperEnalotto Match 4: 1 in 43,949

Winning lottery odds are stacked against players. But history shows even mammoth jackpots are sometimes hit against all probability.

Strategies to Improve Lottery Odds

It is impossible to predict lottery numbers. But players use certain strategies to increase their odds of winning. Some methods include:

Buy more tickets

Buying 100 tickets gives 100x better odds than buying just 1. But buying even more tickets increases the cost with only marginal improvement in probability.

Join a pool

Pooling money to buy tickets in a lottery syndicate improves odds since the group collectively buys more tickets. Pools have better chances to win secondary tier prizes.

Mix odd & even numbers

There is no guarantee this works. But some players use an equal mix of odd and even numbers to cover more possibilities.

Use significant dates

Important dates like birthdays are common choices in hope of some personal luck. But every number has an equal probability in truly random draws.

Use Quick Pick

Letting the computer system randomly pick numbers gives just as good a shot to win as manually chosen numbers. Some big jackpots have been won with Quick Pick.

Play less popular lotteries

Playing smaller state or regional lotteries with fewer players can mean marginally better odds. But jackpots are also much lower.

Where Lottery Revenue Goes

Most lottery revenue does not just go towards prizes. Lottery earnings are typically allocated as follows:

  • 50% towards prizes
  • Up to 30% towards public programs and government funds
  • Around 10-15% towards retailer commissions & operating costs
  • Around 5-10% is profit for the lottery operator

The portion going to government budgets funds various public services. Lottery proceeds are commonly used to support:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Infrastructure
  • Sports
  • Environment
  • The Arts

State and federal governments rely heavily on lottery revenues today as an alternative to taxes to finance such public expenditures.

The Controversy Around Lotteries

While lottery revenues support government programs, lotteries are also highly controversial. Some key concerns include:

Regressive Taxation

Poorer demographics spend a higher proportion of income on lotteries. Lotteries act as an unofficial tax where lower income groups pay more as a percentage of earnings.

Low-Odds Gambling Trap

Astronomical jackpots lure people into playing against near-impossible odds. This leads to habitual gambling and spiraling losses. Critics see lotteries as predatory on human psychology.

Alternate Sources of Revenue

Governments use lottery proceeds to fund services instead of raising taxes or generating those revenues through more equitable means. This redistributes money disproportionately from the poor.

Misappropriation Risks

Though lottery revenues fund social programs, governments can still misappropriate funds leading to inefficiency and lack of oversight. Transparency regulations can counteract this.

Morality Issues

Many groups believe lotteries promote social ills like gambling addiction and are immoral. Most major religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism – explicitly or implicitly forbid gambling and lottery participation.

The Future of Lotteries

Some trends that may shape the future of lotteries include:

Shift Online

Younger tech-savvy players prefer purchasing lottery tickets on websites and mobile apps. Online sales allow lotteries to cut down retailer commissions and overheads.

New Game Formats

Lotteries will design instant win scratchcards and video lottery games to attract millennials seeking instant gratification. Jackpot fatigue may cause lotteries to shift focus to lower tier prizes.

Syndicates on the Rise

Social media makes it easier for people to form online lottery syndicates and pools. Apps like LottoGo allow groups to organize, buy tickets, manage winnings.

New Payment Options

Cryptocurrencies, mobile payments, cashless modes will become more common to buy lottery tickets. These options provide convenience, security, and transparency.

Ethical Lotteries

Non-profits may set up legal charitable lotteries focused on social causes – not maximizing profits – to avoid criticism faced by government lotteries.


Lotteries have a long history intertwined with human culture spanning thousands of years. Though often criticized on ethical grounds as an unfair tax on the poor, lotteries help finance government programs benefitting the public. With lottery revenues reaching billions each year, state-run lotteries will likely continue evolving but retain their core premise – a small wager for a chance to win a life-changing fortune.