What is a Lottery?

A competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of numbers drawn at random. Often used as a means of raising money for the state or a charity.

The term lottery is also applied to a process or event whose outcome appears to be determined by chance: Life is a lot like a lottery. These example sentences are selected automatically from various online sources to reflect current usage of the word ‘lottery.’ Views expressed in these examples do not represent the opinions of Merriam-Webster or its editors.

In the United States, a government-run lottery is a game in which people pay to play for the opportunity to win cash or other prizes. The games are operated by the state governments that have exclusive rights to them, and all profits go to the government. There are also private lotteries, but most states prohibit them by law.

The history of the lottery in the United States stretches back over 300 years. George Washington supported the use of a lottery to fund the construction of mountain roads and cannons during the Revolutionary War, and Benjamin Franklin advocated for using lotteries as an alternative to paying taxes. Today, lottery profits support many state programs and the national parks. Lottery winners can choose a prize from several categories, including cash or goods such as vehicles, sports equipment, and home appliances. Many lotteries offer instant-win scratch cards and daily games, as well as large jackpot drawings. The prizes are usually divided among multiple winners, but if no winner is found, the winnings roll over to the next drawing (as it does for Powerball). To attract potential bettors, lottery companies frequently partner with popular brands such as movies, TV shows, and music groups to advertise their games.