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lottery,scheme for distributing prizes by lot or other method of chance selection to persons who have paid for the opportunity to win. The term is not applicable when lots are drawn without payment by the interested parties to determine some matter, e.g., the distribution of property among heirs. The absence of any element of skill or play distinguishes the lottery as a form of gambling. Under common law in England and the United States lotteries were lawful. They paid for many public buildings and founded and supported educational, charitable, and religious enterprises. Private lotteries, which were particularly susceptible to fraudulent practices, were first generally prohibited in the early 19th cent. Most publicly sponsored lotteries were discontinued not long afterward. With the adoption in 1890 of a federal statute prohibiting the transportation of lottery tickets or prizes by mail or in interstate commerce, the largest American state lottery—that of Louisiana—came to an end. It was not until more than 50 years later that state lotteries were again legalized in the United States, when New Hampshire authorized (1963) a sweepstakes lottery, the proceeds of which were to go to education. With the assistance of computers, 42 states and the District of Columbia now operate daily and weekly lotteries with huge payoffs; states also participate in regional and multistate lotteries, ranging from Tri-State Megabucks (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) to Powerball (with 31 states and territories). Often the lottery drawings are televised. Lotteries are also lawful in many other countries, some of which jointly operate multinational lotteries.
a voluntary form of revenue raising through the sale of lottery tickets; some percentage of the funds raised is raffled off in the form of money or other prizes. In one type of lottery, called a lotereia-allegri in Russian, lots are drawn immediately after a chance has been bought.
In the USSR lotteries are authorized by the Council of Ministers of the USSR or the council of ministers of a Union republic. In the first years of the Soviet power, lotteries were arranged by the local soviet or social organizations to attract funds from the population for cultural, educational, and other purposes. Since 1926 lotteries organized by various voluntary agencies, such as the Society for the Promotion of Defense and Aviation and Chemical Construction, the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent, have been popular. During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 funds were raised by state lotteries to finance the strengthening of the country’s defense. From 1958, state lotteries (including money or prize lotteries, sports lotteries, lotteries put on by the All-Union Voluntary Society for Cooperation With the Army, Air Force, and Navy of the USSR, and lotteries of works of art) are organized in the Union republics, with the income from these lotteries going to the state budgets of the republics.
In other socialist countries (for example, Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Rumania, and Czechoslovakia), money lotteries are conducted on a large scale. Local state agencies and social organizations also organize money lotteries.
In capitalist countries, lotteries are organized by municipalities, voluntary social agencies, and local institutions; some countries (Italy and France) conduct state lotteries.