A lottery is a game of chance in which people pay for a chance to win a prize. The winnings are usually money or goods. The lottery is a form of gambling, and many governments ban it or regulate it. The word “lottery” is derived from Latin, meaning “fateful event.” People are willing to risk small sums for the chance of considerable gain. In colonial America, lotteries raised money for schools, roads, canals, churches, and other public projects. Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin advocated lotteries, and John Hancock ran one to finance a cannon for the Revolutionary War.

In the United States, most state-run lotteries offer games such as the Powerball and Mega Millions. Players choose a set of numbers or symbols that are drawn at random by machines. The winner receives the prize if all of their selected numbers match those chosen by a machine. Most tickets cost $1. The money collected from ticket sales is divided into several categories: prizes, administrative costs, retailer commissions, and state profits. In the US, 50-60% of ticket sales are paid out in prizes to winners, while retail commissions amount to 5-17% of total sales. Administrative costs include advertising, employee salaries, and other operating expenses. State profits generally account for 30-40% of total lottery revenues.

The most common lottery retailers are gas stations, convenience stores, and drugstores. In 2003, approximately 186,000 locations sold lottery tickets nationwide. Seventeen percent of respondents to a survey reported playing the lottery regularly, such as once or twice per week. The rest played less frequently, such as once or twice per month. The survey found that high-school educated, middle-aged men in middle-income neighborhoods were the most frequent lottery players.