Lottery, in its broadest sense, is any arrangement by which tokens are distributed or sold for the purpose of awarding prizes whose allocation depends wholly on chance. The basic elements of a lottery include the identity of the bettors, the amount staked by each, and the tokens (or numbers) on which the money is placed. Usually some means is provided for recording these data, enabling the bettor to later determine whether or not his ticket was among those selected in the drawing.

Historically, the distribution of property by lot was an important part of many societies’ laws and practices. In fact, a biblical passage in Numbers 26:55-55 mentions a drawing of lots to determine the distribution of land after a census. In modern times, lotteries are often used as a way to raise money for governmental or non-governmental organizations. They offer large cash prizes to participants, and the proceeds are generally given to worthy causes.

A lottery may be a rational choice for an individual if the expected utility of winning the prize outweighs the disutility of losing some or all of the monetary stake. This is particularly true if the prize is perceived to be desirable by the individual, such as money for education or the construction of a hospital. Lotteries are also widely used in modern times as a form of entertainment. Several public and private lotteries have been established in the United States, including those for the prizes of Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Union, King’s College, and William and Mary.