Lottery is the name of an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by chance. Whether the prize is money, goods, or services, it must be fair to all participants. It is also essential that the arrangements be transparent and governed by the law. The word lottery probably comes from Middle Dutch lottery, which may be a calque on Middle French loterie (the latter having been derived from the earlier Middle Dutch noster).
Despite the improbability of winning, people love to play. They have a basic instinct to gamble, and they enjoy the chance of striking it big. But there’s a deeper, ugly underbelly to the game: The fact is that many people feel they have no other choice, and that winning the lottery, even with its ridiculous odds, might be their only way up.
The first lotteries were probably organized in the Low Countries in the 15th century. The town records of Burgundy and Flanders mention public lotteries to raise funds for building defenses, fortifying walls, and aiding the poor. Francis I of France authorized the establishment of the first French lotteries in a series of cities beginning in 1539.
Scratch-off games are the bread and butter of lottery commissions, making up between 60 to 65 percent of sales. They’re regressive, meaning they pull in players from lower-income groups. But it’s the huge jackpots that draw in the most attention, earning lotteries free publicity on news websites and newscasts.