The lottery is a gambling game in which tickets bearing numbers are drawn for prizes. A governmental lottery is sponsored by a state or other organization to raise money for public purposes. A private lottery is one run by a group of individuals.

In many states, the lottery is regulated by law and overseen by a government agency. The agency’s job is to select and train retailers, promote the lottery, oversee the sale of tickets, distribute high-tier prizes, and ensure that retailers and players comply with state laws.

Historically, people have played the lottery for a variety of reasons. For some, it has become a way to pass time. Others have purchased tickets to make a financial investment. Yet others have a deeply held belief that they are entitled to winning a prize.

A large percentage of lottery players are disproportionately low-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. They spend a large fraction of their incomes on lottery tickets. Lottery commissions have shifted away from the original message that playing is fun and instead focus on two messages: that playing is a chance to get lucky and that the experience of scratching a ticket is exciting. But this characterization obscures the regressivity of lottery play.

Lottery purchases cannot be explained by decision models based on expected value maximization because the cost of tickets is greater than the expected gains, on average. But more general models based on utility functions defined on things other than lottery outcomes can account for lottery purchasing behavior.