Life is a Lottery


A gambling game or method of raising money, as for some public charitable purpose, in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. Also: any scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance: Life is a lottery.

The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and for aid to the poor. In 1776, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British. Thomas Jefferson arranged a private lottery in 1826 to alleviate his crushing debts.

In modern times, the lottery has become an important source of revenue for states and local governments. However, critics claim that it encourages addictive gambling behavior, is a major regressive tax on lower-income groups, and promotes other types of crime and corruption. Moreover, state officials often do not take into account the full range of public welfare issues when they establish or manage a lottery.

The basic elements of all lotteries are: a mechanism for recording the identities and amounts staked by each bettor, and a pool of numbers or symbols upon which winnings are determined. These are generally mixed by mechanical means, such as shaking or tossing, before the drawing is made. Computers are increasingly used for this purpose because of their ability to record a large number of tickets and generate random numbers or symbols. The lottery is often advertised by its odds of winning – the higher these are, the lower the probability of winning.