Who Wins the Lottery?


Lottery is a familiar part of American culture, with people spending upwards of $100 billion on tickets each year. But how much is that money actually worth to state governments, especially when put into the context of overall state budgets? And who is it that wins, anyway?

A lottery is a method of distribution of prizes or goods by chance, usually run as a means of raising money for public projects. In the United States, 44 states and the District of Columbia offer a lottery, along with more than 100 other countries.

From its beginnings in ancient Rome to Renaissance Europe, the lottery has been a popular source of funds for many different types of endeavors. In modern times, the term has come to be associated with gambling and with a system of randomly assigned prizes, such as units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school.

When a person buys a ticket in the hope of winning the big prize, they are essentially paying for the right to be selected at random. In the past, the selection process might have involved placing the object to be distributed along with other objects in a receptacle, like a hat or a box, and then shaking it. The winner was the one whose name or mark appeared first, a process sometimes referred to as casting lots; hence, the phrase to cast (one’s) lot with another (1530s), meaning to agree to share something by random choice: ‘Life is like a lottery. You have to be lucky to win’.