A game of chance in which tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to those whose numbers are drawn at random. A lottery is also a method of raising money, often for public purposes. In the United States, the term is used to describe the federal state-run Powerball and other games. A lottery may also refer to a private game run by a charitable organization, such as a church, school, or civic group. The term may also be applied to a specific event, such as a sports competition or political contest.

In the early 20th century, many people believed that lottery revenues could allow states to expand social services without imposing especially onerous taxes on middle- and working-class citizens. This arrangement, which lasted until the 1970s, broke down partly because of inflation and partly because of a shift in attitudes toward government spending and taxation.

Lotteries involve selling tickets for a prize, which can be cash or goods. The prize fund can be a fixed amount or a percentage of the total receipts. A fixed-sum prize can encourage low participation, while a percentage-of-receipts prize promotes high participation. The winner can be chosen at random or by ballot. The first modern European lotteries may have been private, with local towns or cities seeking to raise money for fortifications or the poor. Francis I of France allowed the establishment of the first public lotteries in 1520 and 1539. Lotteries were popular in colonial America as well, with public lotteries helping to finance roads, canals, bridges, churches, libraries, colleges, and private enterprises. Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, and King’s College (now Union) were all founded by lotteries. The Continental Congress voted to hold a lottery in 1776, but that plan was abandoned.

While there is no evidence that the purchase of lottery tickets is irrational, it cannot be accounted for by decision models based on expected value maximization. This is because the ticket costs more than the winnings, as shown by lottery mathematics, and people may find entertainment or other non-monetary value in dreaming of becoming wealthy. Moreover, those with lower incomes tend to gamble more heavily relative to their wealth, as they believe that, through hard work or luck, they can become rich.

Lottery participants may be influenced by their beliefs that life is a lottery and that success depends on fate. This belief can be particularly strong in young people, who are prone to see gambling as a way to improve their lives. In addition, a growing culture of materialism has led many to perceive that anyone can become wealthy with sufficient effort and luck, which has helped fuel the popularity of lottery games. The popularity of lottery games also may be related to broader economic trends, including widening economic inequality and the growth of antitax movements.