Lottery is a type of gambling in which prizes, such as money or merchandise, are allocated to winners through a random selection. The practice is most commonly sponsored by governments as a means of raising funds. The word lottery is derived from the Old English term lot, meaning “fate” or “accident.” A person who plays the lottery can be described as someone who is lucky.

Ticket prices for the popular state-sponsored games are typically cheap, but the odds of winning are extremely low. This is because there are many more tickets sold than available prizes. In addition, there are costs associated with promoting and running the lottery, which reduces the pool of prize money. A percentage of the proceeds is normally taken by the lottery operator or a sponsor, and the rest is awarded to winners.

The earliest recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and the poor. In the United States, lotteries were introduced by British colonists in the 1800s.

Despite the low probability of winning, people continue to play the lottery because they believe they will strike it rich one day. This belief is based on the erroneous assumption that lotteries are not addictive, and that they are a good source of revenue for states. However, the actual benefits of state lotteries are limited to a small percentage of overall state revenues. The rest is mostly used to pay for a wide range of other public programs.