A gambling game or method of raising money in which tokens are sold for a chance to win a prize, usually money. Often the winner is determined by drawing lots. Lotteries are often regulated by law and may prohibit promotional materials sent by mail.

The history of lottery games dates back to ancient times. Moses was instructed to divide land among the people of Israel by lot, and Roman emperors used lotteries to give away property and slaves as entertainment at Saturnalian feasts and other events.

In the 15th century, towns in the Low Countries started organizing lotteries to raise money for town fortifications, help the poor, and other uses. The oldest running lottery is the Dutch Staatsloterij, which began operations in 1726. Today, most states have a state lottery, and some have multiple lotteries.

People in the United States spent upward of $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021, making it by far the most popular form of gambling. But what is it about this game that draws so many people in, and causes them to spend such a large portion of their incomes on tickets?

The obvious answer is that a lot of people just plain like to gamble. But it goes a bit deeper than that. The fact is that in an age of inequality and limited social mobility, lotteries are dangling the promise of instant riches to people who might otherwise be stuck in dead-end jobs and struggling to get by.