A lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated by chance, not skill. The term is most commonly associated with a game in which participants choose numbers, or sometimes letters, to be drawn at random by a machine or human being for the chance of winning a prize. It is also used to refer to a sample of a population, or a subset of it, chosen by chance for some purpose (such as randomized control experiments).


Historically, states controlled lottery games and allowed institutions that wanted to raise money to hold drawings. These organizations often lent their lottery wheels to the state in return for a fee. Today, lottery games are usually regulated by state law and are administered by a special department within the state government. These divisions are responsible for selecting and licensing retailers, training employees of those retailers to use lottery terminals, distributing tickets, redeeming them, paying top-tier prizes, and more.

The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of cash began in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Various towns held public lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and the poor.

Lottery winners are not necessarily able to enjoy their newfound wealth, however. A recent study found that the majority of winners experience negative consequences after winning the jackpot, including addictions and even suicide. The problem may be worse for the lucky few who are able to keep their winnings, which are not paid out as a lump sum but as an annuity that is subject to income taxes.