The act of drawing lots, especially for a prize. Lotteries are common in gambling and as a means of allocating scarce resources. They are also used for decisions such as sports team drafts and the allocation of medical treatment.
A lottery is a type of gambling game in which people buy numbered tickets and the winners are those who have the numbers that appear on their ticket. The word is also used to mean a situation in which what happens depends entirely on luck or chance, as in ‘Which judges are assigned to a case is always a bit of a lottery’.
In the early seventeenth century, state-run lotteries became popular in England and in America. These lotteries were often used to raise money for public works projects, such as churches or schools. They were criticized, however, by moralists who saw them as a disguised form of taxation and by people who feared that the proceeds would be used for illegal activities such as prostitution or drug trafficking.
The popularity of these games was partly due to their simplicity and the fact that they required no skill or knowledge. Tickets could be purchased for a nominal sum, such as ten shillings in the case of the first English lottery chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1567. This low cost made the opportunity to win a substantial sum attractive, and it is estimated that more than a million people took part in some way during this period.