Lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance, especially a gaming scheme in which one or more tickets bearing particular numbers draw prizes while the others are blanks. It is also used figuratively to refer to any activity or event that involves a selection by chance, such as combat duty.

Making decisions or determining fates by casting lots has a long history, as documented in the Bible and other ancient sources, but lotteries are relatively recent, emerging only after World War II. They soon gained broad public support and were promoted by state governments as a painless way to generate revenue without raising taxes.

New Hampshire launched the modern era of state lotteries in 1964, followed by most states. Unlike some forms of gambling, lottery revenues have broad popular appeal and have been shown to stimulate the economy. In a lottery, players pay a small amount to have an equal chance of winning a large sum. Typically, the winners use the prize money to reduce debt or supplement income, but some spend it on luxury goods, vacations, and even cars.

A lotteries also provide a lucrative source of funds for some specific constituencies: convenience store owners (the usual vendors); lottery suppliers, who make heavy contributions to state political campaigns; teachers (in states in which the proceeds are earmarked for education); and, in some states, politicians, who have come to rely on the extra revenue.

Many states offer multi-state games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, while others have smaller games, such as state-specific Scratch-Off tickets. The odds of winning vary wildly, and the cost of a ticket can be high.