Lottery is a game of chance in which players buy tickets for the chance to win a prize based on numbers drawn from a pool. The prizes range from cash to goods and services. In addition to the money prizes, some lotteries offer a social and community benefit in return for the purchase of tickets. These benefits include education, healthcare and infrastructure construction. In addition, ticket prices are generally lower than those of other gambling activities, which helps make them more accessible to a wide range of people.

The earliest lottery games in the modern sense of the word appeared in the Low Countries of Flanders and Burgundy in the 15th century, with towns using them to raise funds for wall repair and town fortifications, as well as help the poor. The first European public lottery to award money prizes was probably the ventura, which operated in Modena from 1476 onwards, under the auspices of the ruling dynasty of the House of Este. In colonial America, lotteries were used to fund roads, canals, libraries, churches, schools and colleges, and the foundation of Princeton and Columbia Universities was financed by one in 1740.

State lotteries usually begin with traditional raffles, in which the public buys tickets for a drawing at some future date. Revenues typically expand dramatically after they are introduced, then level off or even decline. This leads to a continual effort to add new games, which increases revenues and sustains interest in the lottery.