What is a Lottery?

a form of raising money for public benefit by selling tickets with numbers on them; winners are selected by chance. Prizes can range from cash to goods and services.

The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible, but lotteries for material gain are more recent, dating at least to the 15th century in the Low Countries, where towns held them to raise funds for town walls and fortifications and to help the poor. Later, they became common in the United States, where George Washington promoted them to pay for his troops in the Revolutionary War and Benjamin Franklin supported their use for college scholarships and for the building of Faneuil Hall in Boston.

State lotteries began to proliferate after World War II, and they continue to grow today. They have become an important part of the revenue base for many state governments, which can then use them to fund social safety net programs without raising taxes on working families.

Traditionally, state lotteries have resembled traditional raffles, with the public purchasing tickets to be eligible for a future prize, usually weeks or months away. But innovations in the 1970s gave rise to a new breed of lottery games, such as scratch-off tickets. These instant games have lower prizes and a smaller percentage of proceeds typically goes to organizers and promotion. Nevertheless, their revenues have expanded rapidly, and they have also generated intense debates over the morality of this type of gambling.