A lottery is a game in which numbered tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize determined by random drawing. Prizes can be cash or goods. A lottery can also be an activity of a public or private entity, such as a state or charity, to raise funds for a particular cause.

While the casting of lots for making decisions and determining fates has a long record in human history (see Lot), the modern lottery is an entirely new development, first introduced in New Hampshire in 1964 and then spread rapidly throughout the United States. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have state-sanctioned lotteries.

The main argument used in state legislatures to promote lotteries is that they generate interest-free revenue for the government, thereby freeing it from the need to raise taxes or cut other programs. However, studies have shown that this characterization of lotteries is largely inaccurate, and that the objective fiscal circumstances of states do not significantly influence their decision to adopt them.

Despite these facts, most people believe that the odds of winning are somehow in their favor. Many people buy multiple tickets to increase their chances, but Harvard statistics professor Mark Glickman warns that this strategy is a waste of money. Instead, he recommends picking numbers that are not commonly picked, such as birthdays or ages, because there is a greater likelihood that other people will have the same number as you and will therefore share the prize with you.