A lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes, especially money, by chance. It consists of selling tickets bearing certain numbers or symbols, and drawing lots to determine the winners. In the United States, state-run lotteries raise funds for a variety of public uses, including education, health and welfare programs, and infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. Some people also use lottery funds for entertainment, as a way to experience a thrill or indulge in fantasies of becoming wealthy. The purchase of lottery tickets can be explained by decision models based on expected value maximization, but the decision may be made for non-monetary reasons as well.

A number of things can make a lottery game appealing to participants: It is cheap and easy to organize, and there are many different ways to play. Lotteries can also be used to raise large amounts of money quickly. The lottery is often criticized for being a form of gambling, but it does not necessarily involve putting any skill into the game; it is simply a process of drawing lots.

The word lottery is believed to be derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or fortune. Historically, the Dutch organized public lotteries to collect donations for the poor or raise funds for town fortifications. By the 17th century it was commonplace in some cities to hold a lottery, and advertisements were printed using the word. The oldest continuously running lottery is the Staatsloterij in the Netherlands, founded in 1726.

Lotteries are usually regulated to ensure that the odds of winning are reasonable and fair, and there is no bias in the selection of winners. The prize pool is set before the lottery is held, and any expenses are deducted from this amount, including profits for the promoter and costs of promotion. The remaining sum is divided into categories, with the top prize being the jackpot.

Most of the time, only one prize is awarded in a lottery drawing, but if no winner is chosen the prize will roll over to the next drawing. The amount of the jackpot will increase with each drawing, and it is rare for a lottery to not have any winners at all.

Lottery revenues have been a popular source of revenue for state governments since the early post-World War II period. It was thought that they would be a useful tool for raising enough revenue to fund a wider range of services without excessively burdening working and middle class families with additional taxes. However, this arrangement is proving to be unsustainable in the face of rising inflation and the high cost of providing for entitlement programs.

It is important to understand the nature of lottery revenues and how they are used by state governments. Most lotteries are regressive, and people at the bottom of the income distribution spend a larger percentage of their money on tickets than do those in the top quintile. This is a serious concern for those who believe that the lottery should be used to fund social safety net programs and other vital services.