A lottery is a method of distributing prizes, especially money or goods, by drawing lots. The idea of making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible, although arranging lotteries for material gain is rather more recent: the first recorded public lottery was held during Augustus Caesar’s reign for municipal repairs in Rome, and the first to distribute prize money was the Bruges Loterie in 1466.

Most states and some cities have lotteries, in which a variety of tickets are sold to people who have a chance to win large cash or other prizes. State laws regulate the operation of lotteries and establish a lottery board or commission to administer them. The commission oversees the selection and licensing of retailers, trains employees of those retail outlets to sell and redeem lottery tickets and to use lottery terminals, pays high-tier prizes, and helps promote the games. The lottery also buys and redeems winning tickets and provides support for retailers to help them comply with the law and rules.

State officials who promote lotteries argue that they are a painless source of revenue and that voters will willingly spend a small amount in exchange for the opportunity to win a larger sum. But it’s worth examining how meaningful the amounts of money raised really are in the context of overall state revenue and whether those dollars are really worth the cost to people who lose their hard-earned money.