A lottery is an arrangement of prizes in which the winners are selected through a process that relies on chance. It is often used by state governments to raise money for specific public purposes.
Lottery has a long history and has been widely used in many countries, both as a recreational activity and as a method of raising public revenue. In ancient Rome, lottery games were common as a form of entertainment during Saturnalian feasts. During these games, each guest would receive a ticket and then toward the end of the evening a draw for prizes such as dinnerware and other household items.
The first recorded European lotteries to offer tickets with prize money in the form of cash prizes appeared in the 15th century, with towns in Flanders and Burgundy holding public lotteries in an attempt to raise money for town fortifications and help the poor. These early public lotteries were hailed as painless forms of taxation.
Since then, lottery popularity has grown, and a large percentage of all state government revenues now come from lottery sales. While a key argument of those who promote lotteries is that the proceeds benefit a particular public good, this has been found to be less of a motivating factor than political concerns such as budget pressures. In fact, lottery revenue has been consistently higher than expected and the actual fiscal health of a state does not appear to have much impact on whether or when a lottery is adopted.