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What is lottery in a sentence?

The 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. In the US, lotteries are subject to both state and federal laws. At the beginning of the 20th century, most forms of gambling, including lotteries and sweepstakes, were illegal in many countries. This remained so until well after World War II. In the 1960s, casinos and lotteries began to appear throughout the world as a means to raise revenue in addition to taxes.

Definition of Lottery

A lottery is a form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers at random for a prize. Some definitions of lottery are:

Legal Definition

The legal definition of lottery varies by jurisdiction. In the United States, a lottery is defined as a scheme that has three elements:

1. Consideration – something of value is given to be able to participate
2. Prize – what the winner receives
3. Chance – winning is determined predominantly on random chance

All three elements must be present for a contest to be legally defined as a lottery.

Financial Definition

Financially, a lottery can be defined as a game of chance where participants can win a large payout at a very small cost relative to the potential winnings. Lotteries offer one of the highest payout ratios of any form of gambling.

Probability Definition

In probability theory, a lottery is a mechanism for randomly selecting subsets from a finite population. It is often used in examples to demonstrate the mathematical properties of probability distributions.

So in summary, a lottery involves paying some consideration for the chance to win a prize, with winners determined randomly. Both the legal and financial definitions emphasize the elements of chance and prize that distinguish lotteries from other games.

Origins of the Lottery

Lotteries have a long history dating back thousands of years. Some key origins of the lottery include:

Ancient China

The Chinese Han Dynasty used lotteries as early as 205 BCE to fund major government projects like the Great Wall. The Chinese are often credited with inventing keno, a lottery-like game still played today.

Ancient Rome

The Roman emperors used lotteries to distribute slaves and property. The winners were given prizes at dinner parties.

Medieval Europe

In the Middle Ages, European towns held public lottery events to raise money for town fortifications and other public projects.

Renaissance Italy

Italy is recognized as the cradle of modern lotteries, with towns recording lottery activities as early as the 1400s. By the 1600s, most towns in Italy had an annual civic lottery.

Enlightenment Europe

Lotteries became popular fundraising tools for European governments in the 1700s. The British Museum lottery in 1753 helped fund the British Museum. The French and Spanish monarchs also used public lotteries.

Types of Lotteries

There are several major types of lotteries:

State and National Lotteries

Today, many national governments operate their own lotteries. The U.S. has state lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions. The UK National Lottery started in 1994. Canada, Australia, and most European nations also have national lotteries. These lotteries offer huge jackpots and good odds compared to other forms of gambling.

Instant Win Scratch Cards

Scratch cards can be purchased for as little as $1 per card. Scratch the coating off the card to see if you’ve won a prize. Instant win scratch cards are a big revenue generator for lotteries worldwide.

Daily Draw Lotteries

These lotteries give a drawing every day instead of weekly or biweekly like national lotteries. Players can win smaller prizes ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Pick 3 and Pick 4 games fall into this category.

Multistate Games

In the U.S., multistate lottery associations allow players across different states to play joint games with bigger jackpots. The largest are Mega Millions and Powerball.

Terminal-Generated Games

Terminal generated games like keno, bingo, and video lottery terminals are controlled by a central computer system. Players can get instant results.

In-House Lotteries

Private lotteries, like workplace raffles or mom-and-pop store lotteries, are technically illegal in most jurisdictions but often overlooked. There are hundreds of thousands of small in-house lotteries.

Famous Lottery Winners

Here are some of the biggest lottery winners of all time:

Name Lottery Year Prize
Manuel Franco Powerball 2019 $768 million
The Three Amigos Mega Millions 2018 $543 million
Mavis Wanczyk Powerball 2017 $758.7 million
Chicopee Electric Light Powerball 2017 $700 million

As you can see, lottery winnings can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But only a tiny fraction of lottery players ever win a substantial amount.

Lottery Odds and Probability

Playing the lottery is very unlikely to produce a substantial win. For example, the odds of winning the Powerball grand prize are 1 in 292,201,338. Here are the odds for other major U.S. lotteries:

Lottery Odds of Jackpot
Mega Millions 1 in 302,575,350
Powerball 1 in 292,201,338
Florida Lotto 1 in 22,957,480
New York Lotto 1 in 45,057,474

You are much more likely to be struck by lightning or killed by a vending machine than to win the lottery jackpot! But people love to dream and hope they will beat the long odds.

Criticisms of the Lottery

While lotteries are popular the world over, there are also many criticisms of lotteries, including:

They Target the Poor

Studies show the poor spend a much higher percentage of their income on lottery tickets than the affluent. Lotteries have been compared to a regressive tax on the poor.

They Can Lead to Addiction

For some, playing the lottery stops being entertainment and becomes a serious addiction. This disorder is sometimes called compulsive gambling.

They Are a Tax on People Bad at Math

Since the probability of winning is negligible, lotteries have been characterized as a voluntary tax on people who don’t understand probability math.

The Money Could Be Better Spent

Many criticize that money spent on lottery tickets would be better spent on necessities like food or shelter. Most lottery revenue comes from low- and middle-income households.

They Divert Money from Productive Investments

From an economic standpoint, money spent on lotteries is mostly consumption that diverts money away from more productive investments.

So while lotteries have benefits like raising money for government programs, critics argue there are also significant downsides.

Government-Run Lotteries Revenue

In jurisdictions where they are legal, lotteries are often run by governments. Lotteries brought in the following revenue for jurisdictions in 2019:

Jurisdiction Revenue
U.S. Combined $74.5 billion
China $62.5 billion
Japan $20 billion
Germany $10 billion
UK $8 billion

As you can see, government-run lotteries bring in tens of billions annually. In the U.S., lottery revenue is often allocated to education, infrastructure, and elderly programs. Critics argue that lotteries actively target and exploit the poor to raise government revenue. But there’s no doubt that they generate substantial money for programs that need it.

Lottery Winnings and Taxes

Winners of big lottery jackpots face sizable tax bills. In the U.S., federal tax is 25% of winnings for the top prize. Some states, like California, also charge an additional tax up to 12% of winnings.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Federal Lottery Tax

Federal tax rates depend on the size of the lottery winnings:

  • Winnings up to $5,000 are taxed at a rate of 10%
  • Winnings from $5,001 to $10,000 are taxed at a rate of 15%
  • Winnings over $10,000 are taxed at a rate of 25%

State Lottery Tax

Some states like California also charge a statutory percentage regardless of amount. For example, California charges 10.3% tax on lottery winnings.

Some states have no state tax on lottery winnings, like Florida, Texas, and Washington.

Other Taxes on Winnings

Depending on location, winnings may also be subject to local taxes, health care taxes, and additional statutory taxes.

In summary, large lottery winnings in the U.S. are subject to at least 25% federal tax, plus additional state and local taxes depending on jurisdiction. Even after tax, winners take home millions in lottery prizes. But taxes substantially reduce mega-jackpot amounts.

Ethical Issues With Lotteries

There are several major ethical issues surrounding government-run lotteries, including:

Targeting the Poor

Studies clearly show lotteries extract a higher percentage of income from the poor. This raises ethical questions about governments actively targeting a revenue source that disproportionately burdens lower-income households.

Lack of Informed Consent

Many critics argue lottery players do not really understand their negligible probability of winning. This raises ethical issues about informed consent and whether players are capable of making rational purchasing choices.

Instant Wealth

For winners, suddenly receiving massive wealth can be fraught with ethical issues. Winners need wisdom and guidance to avoid ruin. Studies show major lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy in just a few years.

Addiction and Overspending

Habitual lottery players can damage their finances and personal lives. Like any form of gambling, government lotteries promote activities that can lead to addiction and compulsive behaviors in a minority of individuals.

Like any major issue, there are reasonable ethical arguments on both sides. But lotteries raise notable ethical concerns over targeting the poor, true informed consent, instant wealth, and gambling addiction.

Major Lottery Scandals

There have been several major lottery scandals over the years:

1980 Pennsylvania Lotto Scandal

Balls were weighted and injected with PCP by lottery insiders to force certain numbers to appear. The scheme was uncovered when too many suspicious numbers matched winners.

Triple 6 Fix Scandal

In 1980s Canada, store owners claimed a disproportionate number of winning tickets using “666” combinations. It was suspected staff tampered with tickets.

Hot Lotto Fraud Scandal

In 2015, an IT employee rigged a $16 million Hot Lotto jackpot. The fraud was uncovered after the employee waited a year to try to claim the prize anonymously.

UK National Lottery Hack

In 2015, an insider with lottery operator Camelot hacked the random number generator to create valid winning tickets. He attempted to claim a $15 million prize.

As you can see, even government-run lotteries are not immune to scandal and fraud attempts. Rigging, hacking, and insider advantage can compromise the integrity of lottery games.

Lotteries vs. Other Forms of Gambling

How do lotteries compare to other forms of gambling in terms of odds and house advantage?

Casino Games

Casino games like slots, roulette, and craps give the house only a small mathematical advantage. Players have reasonable odds, although the house always wins over time.

Sports Betting

Skillful sports bettors can achieve a 5% or better edge with smart handicapping. Sportsbooks still profit from fees but odds are fairer compared to lotteries.


Poker is a game of skill. The house charges a fee to play (called rake), but good players will win money in the long run.


Lotteries offer the worst odds and highest house advantage of any form of gambling. Players essentially have no reasonable mathematical chance of winning.

So lotteries are by far the worst bet among gambling options. But their appeal lies in the dream of instantly becoming rich beyond your wildest dreams!

How to Improve Your Lottery Odds

While winning the lottery jackpot is exceedingly unlikely, there are some basic strategy tips to marginally improve your improbable odds:

Buy More Tickets

This maximizes the number of number combinations you have in play. Buying 100 tickets gives you 100 times the chances of winning versus buying 1 ticket.

Join a Lottery Pool

Join an office or friends lottery pool to get more number coverage at a lower cost per person. Pooling money means you get more tickets.

Avoid Popular Numbers

Always avoid consecutive numbers or patterns like 1-2-3-4-5-6. Unpopular combinations have better odds.

Go For Bigger Jackpots

Games like Powerball and MegaMillions have worse odds but massive jackpots. A single win can outweigh 100 losses in a smaller game.

Use a Lottery Wheel System

Lottery wheeling systems guarantee a certain amount of number coverage for a set budget. This improves your odds versus quick picks.

Again, your overall odds are always miniscule in lottery games. But these tips optimize your lottery play and marginally improve your very slim chances.


Lotteries have been around for thousands of years. While they offer poor odds and substantial criticisms exist around their impact on the poor, lotteries remain enormously popular worldwide as a gambling activity. This popularity derives from the dream of instantly becoming rich beyond imagination. Governments endorse lotteries based on revenues generated for public programs. Playing the lottery is statistically unlikely to produce significant winnings given the extremely long odds. But it offers hope and excitement derived from dreams of sudden windfalls of wealth. Despite ethical issues around targeting the poor and lack of informed consent, lotteries will likely continue to flourish worldwide. The universally shared fantasy of becoming instantly rich will keep lottery games popular despite their extremely long odds.