What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game of chance in which participants pay a small sum of money (typically $1 or less) and win big prizes if their numbers match those randomly drawn by machines. Lotteries are common in many countries, and they can be used for everything from subsidized housing units to kindergarten placements. They are also a popular source of revenue for state governments, which may use them to supplement or replace general fund revenues.

Most states set up their own state agencies or public corporations to run their lotteries, rather than contracting out the work to private firms in return for a share of the profits. Once established, these agencies are largely free to operate their lotteries as they see fit, often expanding their offerings in the process. Generally, such expansions are driven by the need for increased revenues and by pressure from players for additional games. Consequently, the evolution of state lotteries is a classic case of policy making conducted piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview or control.

Although lotteries have won broad public approval, critics have pointed to a number of drawbacks. One is that lotteries tend to skew the distribution of state revenues, since people in low-income neighborhoods participate in lotteries at lower rates than in middle- or upper-income communities. Another is that the numbers players select tend to reflect personal characteristics, such as dates of birth or home addresses. This is problematic because such numbers have patterns that are more likely to repeat themselves than other, random numbers.