Lottery is a game in which numbered tickets are sold, and prizes are given to the holders of numbers that match those randomly drawn. It is a form of gambling that also has been used by governments to raise money for specific projects.

The first recorded lotteries took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when they were used to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. In the early post-World War II period, when states began to expand their array of social safety nets, lottery revenue was seen as a painless alternative to taxes.

Unlike other forms of gambling, where the odds are heavily weighted toward the house, state lotteries have relatively high prize-to-ticket ratios. This makes them attractive to people who want a large, lump-sum payout. In the United States, all lotteries are run by the state government, which has exclusive monopoly rights and keeps all profits.

Most states sell scratch-off tickets for a dollar each, and drawing are held to determine winners. The winnings vary by state, but the average jackpot is about $50 million. Many states have teamed up with companies to provide popular products as the top prize, such as cars and TVs.

In some cases, lottery proceeds are used to finance public education. In other states, they fund public services or programs aimed at reducing poverty and illiteracy. In the United States, lottery proceeds make up more than a fifth of total state general revenues.