The lottery is a form of gambling that offers prizes for matching a series of numbers. Prizes can be cash or goods. Many states and some municipalities run lotteries. The practice has a long history in human societies, and making decisions or determining fates by the casting of lots has been recorded as early as ancient Rome. It became more common in the seventeenth century, when it was used to fund religious and military enterprises and for municipal repairs. Today, most people play for entertainment. In the United States, tens of millions of people spend billions on lottery tickets each year. The likelihood of winning is very low, and many lottery players end up bankrupt in a few years.

The modern lottery was born in New Hampshire in 1964 and spread rapidly after that, largely because politicians viewed it as a way to maintain state services without raising taxes. In the late twentieth century, Cohen writes, the popularity of lotteries rose along with anxiety over pensions, unemployment, rising health-care costs, and declining incomes for most working Americans.

Traditionally, lottery games have been little more than traditional raffles, with the public purchasing tickets for a drawing at some future time. However, since the 1970s, a number of innovations have altered the nature and structure of state lotteries. Today, most state lotteries offer a variety of instant games. The most popular of these are scratch-off tickets, whose prizes tend to be much smaller than the jackpots of traditional lotteries but which still require matching a set of numbers to win. Revenues often expand dramatically after a new game is introduced, but eventually begin to level off or even decline. This has led to an enormous amount of advertising aimed at persuading people to continue spending money on tickets.