A contest in which tokens are distributed or sold, the winning token or tokens being secretly predetermined or ultimately selected in a random drawing. The winner is determined by chance; he or she may win a prize such as a house, car, or cash. Often, the lottery is organized by government for purposes of raising money.

In the United States, most state governments regulate lotteries by enacting laws and assigning duties to a special lottery division. These departments select and license retailers, train employees to use lottery terminals and sell tickets, redeem tickets and validate winning numbers, assist retailers in promoting lottery games, pay high-tier prizes to players, and verify that retailers and players comply with state laws and rules.

The word lottery comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate” or “fateful circumstance.” It is probably a calque on Middle French loterie, which was based on Latin lotium, the name of the ancient game of divination by drawing lots.

Whether or not the prize in a lottery is substantial, people play it because of the belief that luck and chance can make them rich. The odds of winning are usually extremely low, but that doesn’t stop many people from buying tickets. A lottery winner can choose to receive the entire prize sum in one lump sum or as an annuity, with varying payout structures based on state rules and the type of lottery. Some people have used the money they won to buy a better life, but others have died or even gone insane after winning the lottery.