Lottery is the practice of distributing money or prizes among many people who purchase chances (tickets) in a drawing. The winners are selected by chance or by secret predetermination, and the odds against winning vary according to the type of lottery.

The earliest known European lotteries to offer tickets with prize money are recorded from the Low Countries in the 15th century, where towns used them to raise funds for town fortifications and to aid the poor. However, the idea of using chance to distribute prizes dates back much further, with evidence from biblical times, Chinese Han dynasty keno slips, and the Book of Songs (2nd millennium BC).

Modern lotteries include both state-run games and private games, with the latter generally having higher jackpots and lower odds against winning. The most well-known lotteries are the national and multi state ones, with the former dishing out a prize to players from more than one US state and the latter catering to a specific country.

Throughout the history of America, lotteries have been used to fund everything from roads and prisons to churches and colleges. They became especially popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when America’s banking and taxation systems were still developing. During that period, famous leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin held lotteries to retire debts or buy cannons for the city of Philadelphia. Lotteries have polarized public opinion. Supporters claim that they provide a painless alternative to raising taxes, while opponents criticize them as dishonest, unseemly, and undependable.