What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a low-odds game of chance where winners are selected through a random drawing. Lotteries are common in many countries around the world and can be found in all kinds of situations, from sports team drafts to the allocation of scarce medical treatment. They are also often used as a way to raise funds for state or federal governments.

A number of states have public lotteries where players can purchase a ticket for a chance to win money or prizes. These are usually organized so that a portion of the proceeds are donated to charitable causes. Lotteries can also be privately run. In the United States, there are more than 200 lotteries, including scratch-off games and daily games where players choose numbers.

The first recorded lotteries were held in the 15th century, when towns used them to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. In the 17th century, they were popular in colonial America and played a major role in financing public projects such as roads, libraries, colleges, canals, bridges and churches. They also helped finance the American Revolution.

In the immediate post-World War II period, states saw the lottery as a way to expand their social safety nets without heavy taxes on middle and working class citizens. This arrangement crumbled to a halt as inflation began to erode the expected value of winnings.

One of the key messages that lottery promoters try to convey is that even if you don’t win, it feels good because you did your civic duty and gave money to the state. But this is a false message. The percentage of lottery revenue that goes to the state is tiny compared to the amount of taxation that’s already being collected.