Lottery is a type of gambling game in which people buy tickets and then have numbers chosen at random by machines. The people with matching numbers win prizes. Governments and licensed promoters have used lotteries to raise funds for many projects, including canals, bridges, and colleges. They also have promoted them as a painless alternative to higher taxes. Supporters claim that lotteries are good for society and generate large cash revenues, but critics attack them as dishonest and unseemly and point to studies showing that they prey on the illusory hopes of the poor.
There are more than thirty states that operate a lottery, and many more countries have state-run games. State laws regulate the game and specify how winners are to be notified of winnings, how much time they have to claim their prize after the drawing, what documentation a winner must present to prove his or her identity, and other details. State agencies administer the lotteries, and they often have staff to help people with problems or questions.
The term “lottery” comes from the Dutch word lot, which means “fate.” The term has been used since the 16th century to refer to a variety of events, including the distribution of land and property among the people and the giving of treasures to noblemen and royalty. It was a popular form of raising money in colonial America, and many public projects—including roads, bridges, churches, libraries, and canals—were financed by it.