A gambling game or method of raising money, especially for public charitable purposes, in which a large number of tickets are sold and prizes are drawn at random. Fig.: Any scheme for the distribution of something (as money or property) by lot or chance, or anything whose outcome appears to be determined by chance: ‘Life is a lottery.’
The term may also refer to any event whose result is decided by chance, such as the outcome of a sporting competition or a presidential election. The earliest known lotteries were in ancient Egypt, but they became popular in Europe in the 1500s after Francis I of France introduced them to his kingdom. In England and the United States, lotteries were usually organized by the government or licensed by state legislatures as a means of obtaining “voluntary taxes” to fund various public purposes. They were used for the construction of many American colleges, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), Union, and Brown.
Although there are several ways to play a lottery, the most common involves buying a ticket for a fixed amount of money and selecting numbers or symbols from a set of possible combinations, which are then drawn at random by a machine. A prize is awarded if the winning combination matches those chosen. Alternatively, players can join syndicates and share the cost of a number or symbol. This increases the chances of winning, but reduces the total payout.