A game in which tokens or tickets are sold and prizes are chosen by chance, often sponsored by a state or charitable organization as a means of raising funds. The term is also used of any activity or event whose outcome depends on fate or luck, such as combat duty. The drawing of lots is the most common method of choosing winners, but other methods include numbered tickets, raffles, and scratch-off games. The lottery is usually regulated to ensure fairness and legality.
Some people use a lottery to win a large sum of money, while others play it for smaller amounts. The amount of the prize can range from cash to goods, services, or even real estate. The lottery is not considered gambling by federal law, but some states have laws that regulate it.
Lotteries are usually conducted by a government agency, but can be run privately as well. They are often marketed as a painless form of taxation and are widely popular, with one estimate saying that 50 percent of Americans buy a lottery ticket at least once a year. But while they are a powerful source of revenue, the fact that there is no skill involved in playing makes them controversial.
The first known examples of a lottery are keno slips from the Chinese Han dynasty between 205 and 187 BC, although earlier signs include the casting of wood for an inheritance (see cast of straw). The modern game is probably descended from the Low Countries’ 15th-century lotteries that raised money for town fortifications and to aid the poor.