A lottery is a game where numbers are drawn at random to win prizes. Prizes range from small cash amounts to cars and houses. Lotteries are a form of legalized gambling and are most often operated by state governments.

Lotteries can be considered to operate on a principle of positive selection, meaning that the probability of winning a particular prize is proportional to the number of tickets sold for the lottery. In this way, a lottery’s total prize pool reflects the expected utility of those who choose to play. For a person to be willing to buy a ticket, that individual must perceive that the combined expected utility of monetary and non-monetary gains will exceed the disutility of a monetary loss.

The term lottery comes from the Dutch noun “lot” meaning fate or destiny, which is believed to be derived from the root of Latin “leo” (“fate”). The earliest known public lotteries were organized in the Low Countries in the 15th century for raising funds for a variety of town uses, including wall building and relief for the poor. The first modern state lotteries were established in the 1960s, with New Hampshire leading the way.

State lotteries are typically run as a business, with the goal of maximizing revenues. As a result, the marketing of the lottery is frequently at cross-purposes with public interest. Lottery advertising is heavy on promoting gambling and encouraging people to spend money that they do not have, with a view to achieving short-term revenue gains.