A lottery is a form of gambling in which participants pay a small amount of money for the chance to win a large sum of money. Normally, some percentage of ticket sales or jackpots go as expenses and profits for the organizer and a percentage goes to the winners. Several countries have state-sponsored lotteries. In the United States, the most popular are the Powerball and Mega Millions. In addition, private lotteries are widely used for charitable purposes.

In colonial America, lotteries were commonly used to fund construction of roads, libraries, churches, canals, and colleges. George Washington, for example, ran a lottery to raise money for the construction of the Mountain Road in Virginia. Benjamin Franklin supported the use of lotteries to finance cannons for the Revolutionary War.

The modern lottery is generally operated by a public entity, such as a city, county, or state, and is often regulated to ensure that the proceeds are spent as intended. It is not uncommon for the winnings to be taxed.

The modern lottery has evolved from the ancient practice of drawing lots to determine ownership or other rights. The term “lottery” probably derives from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or fortune; it may also be a diminutive of the English word tote, meaning “fate”. The drawing of lots is recorded in many cultures throughout history as a method of allocating property or other assets. The word lottery is also believed to have been derived from the French noun loterie, which means “the action of drawing lots” (thus the Oxford English Dictionary). The word was first recorded in English in the early 16th century.