Lottery is the procedure of distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group by chance. The word lottery comes from the Dutch verb loten, meaning to draw lots, and may be a calque of Middle French loterie, or of Old English lote, Loty, or Leotar, all of which meant “to distribute by lot.” In modern usage, it refers to any type of gambling where a payment of a consideration (money, property, or work) is given for a chance to receive a prize.

In colonial America, lotteries were common and helped to fund public and private projects, such as canals, roads, churches, colleges, schools, libraries, and even the foundation of Princeton and Columbia universities. Lotteries were also a significant source of revenue during the Revolutionary War, and afterward in helping to fund public and military ventures.

Most states regulate their own lotteries, assigning a lottery board or commission to oversee the distribution of tickets and the payment of high-tier prizes. These commissions are charged with selecting and licensing retailers, training those employees to use lottery terminals and sell tickets, promoting the lottery games to the general public, educating players on responsible gaming, and ensuring that all state laws are followed.

Lotteries send a number of messages, including the idea that it’s okay to play because you’re raising money for your state, and that you should feel a little bit better about yourself if you buy a ticket. But it’s the dangling promise of instant riches that draws many people in, especially in an era of growing inequality and limited social mobility.