The lottery is a contest in which people buy tickets and have a small chance of winning a prize, such as money or goods. It is sometimes used to raise funds for public projects, such as schools, roads, canals, or the arts. The prize can be a fixed amount, or it can be a percentage of total receipts. Some lotteries are organized by state governments, and others are privately run.

Historically, state governments created lotteries as a way to generate revenue without raising taxes. The idea was that since people will gamble anyway, why not use the proceeds to help pay for government services. The problem with this logic is that it ignores the fact that introducing gambling into society creates more gamblers. It also assumes that states cannot control the amount of gambling that occurs.

A more accurate assessment of the impact of the lottery is that it has had a regressive effect on poor people. The most committed lottery players, those in the bottom quintile of income distribution, spend a large portion of their disposable income on tickets. Despite the obvious regressivity, lottery commissions often promote their games with messages that emphasize the entertainment value and fantasy of becoming rich.

The purchase of a lottery ticket may make sense for some individuals. If the entertainment value or other non-monetary benefits of playing the lottery exceed the expected disutility of a monetary loss, the purchase is a rational decision. However, most people surveyed say that the lottery is a waste of money.