A lottery is a gambling game in which numbers are drawn at random to determine winners. Lotteries are typically organized by state governments or licensed promoters. They are popular sources of revenue for many public and charitable purposes. The word comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate.”
Historically, people have used chance to distribute property and other prizes. The Old Testament has a number of examples of land being distributed by lot; and Roman emperors gave away slaves and other goods by lottery during Saturnalian parties.
In Europe, the first state-sponsored lotteries began in the 15th century. The word was probably borrowed from Middle Dutch loterie (along with its derived verb, loterij), which may be a calque of Middle French loterie “action of drawing lots.” In the United States, the first state-sponsored lottery was held in 1748. Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to help fund the Philadelphia militia, John Hancock ran one to build Faneuil Hall in Boston, and George Washington ran one to build a road over a mountain pass in Virginia.
Today, most states hold a state lottery. They sell tickets to raise money for a variety of public and charitable uses, including education, highways, and medical research. The winnings are paid out in lump sum or as an annuity, which pays a fixed amount every year for life. In the United States, federal taxes take about 24 percent of winnings, and in some states, there are also state and local taxes.