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What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance. Lotteries are often associated with gambling, but can also involve other things such as allocating units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. In the United States, lotteries are state-run and require paying participants to purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes. Historically, prizes were awarded for a wide range of items such as property and slaves; in the seventeenth century George Washington ran a lottery to raise funds to pay for cannons during the Revolutionary War. The word “lottery” has since come to be a synonym for any game or arrangement where prizes are allocated by chance (see section 14 (5) of the Gambling Act 2005 and ‘When is something not a lottery?’ for more).

In modern times, most lottery prizes are cash. However, a growing number of countries have begun to use other methods for awarding prizes such as houses, cars, and university places. In the USA, prize allocations for subsidized housing blocks, kindergarten placements and various other public services are largely conducted by lotteries. Other examples include the distribution of quotas for migrant workers, or the allocation of places at art and science colleges by lot. Lottery revenue is allocated in a variety of ways depending on the state; it can cover administrative costs and vendor expenses, or be used to fund specific projects that the state designates.