A lottery is a scheme for distributing prizes by lot or chance. Its most common form involves a public organization (like a state agency or a publicly owned corporation) that organizes and runs a series of games with varying prize amounts. Ticket sales and other earnings go to the lottery operator and some portion is deducted for costs of organizing, promoting, and administering the games. The remainder is distributed to the winners. While it is not the only way to distribute prizes, it is by far the most popular.
A key element in winning and retaining public approval for the lottery is that proceeds benefit some specific public good, such as education. This argument is especially powerful in times of economic stress, when the prospect of tax increases or budget cuts looms large in the public mind. But studies have shown that the popularity of a lottery does not depend on whether a state government is experiencing financial difficulties; in fact, lotteries tend to win broad support even when the overall fiscal situation of a state is sound.
The term “lottery” comes from the Dutch word lot meaning “fate.” It refers to a game of chance in which individuals place monetary stakes on the outcome of a random draw. It is also possible that the word was borrowed from Middle French loterie, a loanword from Middle Dutch loinge, meaning “action of drawing lots” and perhaps a calque on the Middle Dutch word loot, meaning “allotment.”
Most lotteries have a number of elements in common: A mechanism for collecting money from bettors; a means for recording the identities of bettors and the amounts they bet; and a pool from which prizes are drawn. Typically, the bettors sign their names or mark a receipt with their numbers or other symbols. The bettor then deposits the ticket with the lottery organization for shuffling and selection in the drawing. The ticket may be a paper slip or an electronic record. In the latter case, the bettor may have to register his or her ticket to determine later if it is among those selected as the winner.
In addition to these basic elements, most lotteries employ other techniques that are designed to improve the odds of winning and discourage cheating. For example, most states prohibit the sale of multiple tickets at the same time. This helps prevent people from selling or reselling their winning tickets and skewing the results of the drawing. Additionally, many lotteries require applicants to submit documentation verifying their identity and that they are a resident of the jurisdiction in which the lottery is conducted.
There is little doubt that the lottery is a game of chance, but if it is to be fair, all applications must have equal odds of being selected. That is why HACA uses a lottery to select applicants for housing assistance. The chart below shows how the lottery works: each row represents an applicant, and each column shows how many times that application has been awarded its position in the lottery.