Lottery is a form of gambling in which participants purchase numbered tickets or symbols that are drawn in a random drawing. Typically, a portion of the money staked is used to cover expenses for organizing and promoting the lottery, while a percentage is retained as revenue and profits. The remainder is awarded as prizes.

Government-run lotteries are common in Africa, most Middle Eastern countries, Europe, Latin America, Australia, and many Asian nations. Several states in the United States have state-level lotteries and some are members of global lotto alliances that operate national games such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

In the 17th century, Dutch colonists organized public lotteries to raise money for everything from hospitals and canals to church-built colleges and universities. In the early 21st century, state-level lotteries proliferated throughout the United States, but in recent decades they have been the subject of scandals and criticisms that led to a decline in their popularity.

When the supposedly inextricable human impulse to gamble proved not to be a big enough draw, legalization advocates began touting a narrower claim: lottery money would float a single line item of the state budget, invariably something popular and nonpartisan like education or elder care or parks or aid for veterans. The argument seemed to offer moral cover for people who approved of lotteries on other grounds, including the belief that, since people are going to play anyway, governments might as well pocket the profits.