Lottery is a form of gambling in which winnings are determined by drawing numbers. Typically, a percentage of the pool goes as taxes and costs for organizing and promoting the lottery. A portion of the remainder is awarded as prizes to winners. Prizes may be offered in the form of cash or goods. In some cases, a winner can choose between a lump sum payment and an annuity payment. The choice is based on state and sponsor rules.

The casting of lots to decide fates has a long history in human culture, although the use of lottery as a source of material gain is relatively recent. In the early 18th century, lottery games were used to raise money for a variety of public projects. Some, like the Boston Tea Party and the Continental Congress’s use of lotteries to fund the colonial war, were criticized as being a hidden tax.

In modern times, lotteries are a big business with billions of dollars in sales. The industry’s message is centered on two things: playing the lottery is fun and it can help you get rich. These messages are designed to obscure the regressive nature of lotteries and the extent to which they burden lower-income people.

This article is part of a series on inequality and the economy from The Washington Post. Read the other articles in the series here.