Lottery is a form of gambling in which people buy numbered tickets and win a prize if the numbers match those chosen. The game has been popular in many countries and is also used to select winners for various events. For example, the National Basketball Association holds a lottery to determine who gets the first choice of college players in the draft.

The first lotteries offered tickets with prizes of money, and town records from the Low Countries in the 15th century indicate that they were already widespread. The word is from Latin lotto, the casting of lots to decide a prize; its earlier sense was “lot, share, portion, or destiny.”

There are many ways to win a lottery. In most games, the winner is determined by a drawing that may be done by computer or by some other mechanical method. The tickets or counterfoils are thoroughly mixed, and the numbers or symbols selected are drawn from this pool of possible winners. Computers are increasingly used for this purpose, as they can store large amounts of data and generate random numbers very quickly.

While some governments have banned lotteries because they can encourage addiction, others promote them as a painless form of taxation and a way to raise money for public purposes. In fact, a majority of U.S. state legislatures now allow for some kind of lottery. Some critics argue that replacing taxes with lotteries will increase social costs, but others believe the ill effects of gambling are far less costly than those of alcohol or tobacco.