How Fair is the Lottery?


The lottery is a game in which people pay a small sum of money, or “stakes,” for the chance to win a larger prize. Generally speaking, winning a prize involves matching a series of numbers or symbols on a ticket with those randomly drawn by a machine. The games are usually run by state governments and generate revenue to fund government programs, especially those for poor people. A large proportion of the population lives in states that operate lotteries.

Most states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. Some have more than one, with some running daily or weekly lotteries. Some of these have games that are played with scratch-off tickets or coins, while others are played through a computerized draw. The prizes vary from free vacations to a new car.

There are a number of factors that make it hard to evaluate the fairness of lotteries. A major concern is that they promote the idea that wealth can be gained without effort, thereby encouraging laziness and dependence on chance rather than on ability. This is a form of gambling, and the Bible warns against it (Proverbs 23:5).

Another question is whether the process of drawing winners is truly random. The answer, as shown in this plot of the results of a lottery held in the United Kingdom, is yes. The color of each cell shows how many times each application was awarded the row’s position; the fact that the colors are generally similar suggests that the outcome is unbiased.