A gambling game or method of raising money, as for some public charitable purpose, in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for certain prizes. Lotteries are regulated by governments to ensure their fairness and legality. Prizes may range from small items to large sums of money. The winnings of a lottery are determined entirely by chance and are not based on any skill or strategy.

The word lottery is derived from the Latin loterie, from the French loterie, which in turn derives from the Middle Dutch loterij “action of drawing lots” (see English language roots). A similar practice was recorded in the Old Testament, where Moses was instructed to conduct a census and divide land among the people by lot. Lotteries also were used in the Renaissance and later were brought to the United States by European colonists. Privately organized lotteries were common in England and the American colonies as a mechanism for receiving “voluntary taxes,” and they helped establish several American universities, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), William and Mary, Union, and Brown.

Lottery proceeds are primarily used to pay lottery prize winners and cover operating expenses and advertising costs. In fiscal year 2021, Lottery revenue reached nearly $25 billion—about $370 for each resident of Delaware, $324 for residents of Rhode Island and West Virginia, and $8.5 million per person in California. Unclaimed prizes are returned to ticket purchasers through increased payouts on scratch-off games or special promotions.