Lottery is an arrangement in which a prize, such as money or goods, is allocated to members of a class by chance. The term derives from the Latin for “fateful event” or “divine providence.” Modern arrangements of this type include commercial promotions in which property is given away by chance, military conscription, and random selection of jury members. In addition, state-run lottery games are sometimes used to allocate money to political parties.

Lotteries have a long history in Europe, but their current widespread popularity is relatively recent. The first public lotteries were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and help the poor. A record from 1445 refers to the sale of tickets with prizes ranging from grain to livestock. By the 18th century, lotteries had become popular in the United States, and George Washington sponsored a lottery to finance a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Privately organized lotteries were also common, and they played an important role in financing American colleges such as Harvard and Yale.

Whether or not lottery proceeds are used for a particular public good, they have generally won broad public approval. The fact that lotteries can often be a more appealing source of revenue than higher taxes is perhaps a major factor in their continued popularity. However, the fact that lottery revenues are so dependable has also generated criticisms that the lottery may be addictive and lead to gambling problems.