A lottery is a form of gambling that involves a drawing for prizes, such as money, property, or services. It is generally regulated by state governments and operated as a state monopoly, in which the profits are used to finance public programs. People buy tickets for a small price and win if their numbers match those drawn by a machine. Historically, lotteries have been used to distribute property, slaves, and other items of value. This practice dates back to ancient times, and the biblical book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55-56) has Moses assigning property by lot to Israelites. Roman emperors also used lotteries to award gifts to their guests during Saturnalian feasts.

A key argument for the promotion of a lottery is that proceeds support a particular public good, such as education. This is a potent argument in times of economic stress, when many citizens fear tax increases or cutbacks to public programs. But studies have found that the actual fiscal condition of a state government has little influence on whether or when it adopts a lottery.

Lotteries are a form of gambling, and many critics contend that they are addictive. The large jackpots on offer entice people to play, but the odds of winning are slim–statistically, you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than winning a lottery prize. Furthermore, many lottery winners find that their winnings are spent quickly and end up worse off than they were before their win.