The lottery is a popular pastime that offers people a chance to fantasize about winning millions of dollars at a cost of only a few bucks. But it’s important to know that, as with any game, your losses are likely to significantly outnumber your wins. That’s especially true for scratch-off tickets.

Lotteries offer states an easy and relatively cheap way to increase their revenue without raising taxes or spending money on new programs. They also provide benefits for the many small businesses that sell tickets and large companies that participate in merchandising and advertising campaigns. And they provide money for charity, education, and community services.

In 1998 the Council of State Governments reported that most state lotteries were operated by quasi-governmental or privatized lottery corporations and that oversight responsibilities varied from state to state. In some cases, state attorneys general or police departments have a role in investigating fraud and other violations of the law.

The term “lottery” was probably first used in the mid-16th century to describe a process of drawing lots for various prizes. The word was borrowed from Middle Dutch lotterie, itself a calque on the Old English phrase lotterye (literally “fateful lot”). Lottery is currently available in forty-six states and the District of Columbia, with sales totaling more than $54 billion in fiscal year 2003. The majority of ticket buyers are low-income individuals, and surveys suggest that most think they will win a prize eventually.