Lottery is a popular form of gambling in which people purchase tickets with numbers and then win prizes based on random chance. In the United States, state-run lottery games contribute billions of dollars to state coffers. Many of these funds go to things like education and social safety nets, which is fine. However, just how meaningful this revenue source is, and whether it’s worth the trade-off of people losing their money in order to participate in the lottery, are questions that deserve further exploration.
“any arrangement by which prizes are allocated by chance,” 1560s; probably from Italian lotteria, from lotto, “lot, portion, share,” of Germanic origin, cognate with Old English hlot, and perhaps with Middle Dutch loterje. Earlier it meant “a collection of tokens,” especially those sold for a charitable purpose, or simply “a set of tickets for a drawing of prizes.”
When the word was used to describe something like a sporting event, it was usually meant to imply that it involved skill. However, when used to describe a government-sponsored contest in which people buy tickets and then have a very low chance of winning a big prize, it was often taken to mean that the outcome depended on luck (that is, “fate”). This usage contrasted with the biblical command against coveting (“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to him”), although it may have been influenced by the desire for instant wealth.