Lottery is a game where players pay for a ticket and select a group of numbers, sometimes with the option to choose their own numbers. The winnings vary, depending on the proportion of tickets that match the drawn numbers. Several prizes are available, including cash and goods. The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long record, with several examples in the Bible. Public lottery games of this sort are relatively recent, however, dating from the 15th century at the latest, with the first recorded ones involving the distribution of prize money in the Low Countries.
The popularity of lotteries is often linked to the view that they are a source of “painless” revenues for state governments that would otherwise have to raise taxes or cut services. That argument has proven effective, and most states now offer a lottery of one form or another.
As a result, state lotteries are highly dependent on their revenue streams and often face political pressure to increase them. They are also subject to the usual problems of gambling, which tend to affect the poor disproportionately, and many lottery players become addicted.
A key issue is how lottery proceeds are distributed. The prevailing wisdom is that they are earmarked for a particular public good, such as education. But this leaves little room for other needs, and critics point to a range of problems, from the tendency of players to covet more wealth (especially when they win) to the inability of state officials to manage these large flows of money.