Lottery is the process by which a number of prizes are distributed by chance among those who buy tickets. The total value of the prizes is often less than the cost of ticket sales and promotion; thus, lottery proceeds usually benefit the state or other charitable purposes. Lottery is an example of a gambling activity that does not satisfy the needs of rational gamblers, as its odds of winning are very low. However, many people continue to participate in the lottery because they believe it is a “good” way to raise money.

In addition to cash prizes, some lotteries also award other goods or services. Examples include housing units in a subsidized housing project or kindergarten placements at a public school. These perks may seem trivial, but they are important to lottery participants. The decision to purchase a lottery ticket can be accounted for by decision models based on expected utility maximization.

The history of lotteries extends back centuries. The Old Testament instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelites and distribute land by lot, while Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by lot during Saturnalian feasts. In the United States, a lottery was first used to fund the Continental Army at the outset of the Revolutionary War. Today, most state governments run lotteries to help raise revenue for various projects and programs.