Lottery is a method of allocating something of value, such as a prize, through the drawing of lots. While the casting of lots for making decisions or determining fates has a long record in human history, the lottery as a means to distribute material wealth is much more recent. The first recorded public lotteries to sell tickets for prizes in the form of money occurred in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when local towns held them to raise funds for town repairs and for helping the poor.

The basic elements of a lottery are a collection of tickets or their counterfoils, some procedure for shuffling them and selecting the winners, and a system for recording the identities of the bettors and amounts staked. Historically, the identity of each betor was recorded on a ticket or receipt that was deposited with the lottery organization for subsequent shuffling and selection. In modern lotteries, computers are often used to record ticket information and to generate the winning numbers.

Lotteries develop broad public support because of the opportunity to win a substantial prize, especially when the jackpot is high. In addition, the proceeds from a lottery may benefit specific groups, such as convenience store operators (who are usually the primary vendors for a state’s lottery); suppliers to the lotteries (heavy contributions by lottery supplies to state political campaigns are frequently reported); and teachers in states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education.