Lottery is a type of gambling in which the prize money is awarded by random chance. There are many different kinds of lottery games, but all have some common features. Typically, the prize amount is the sum of money paid in by all players, after costs of organizing and promoting the lottery and taxes or other revenues are deducted. The remaining prize pool is usually divided into a few large prizes and many smaller ones, since potential bettors seem to prefer the opportunity of winning a very large amount, as evidenced by their willingness to pay much higher prices for tickets for rollover drawings in which fewer winners are declared.
Making decisions or determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history in human culture, but the introduction of lotteries as a means to raise money for public benefit is relatively recent. In the United States, state-licensed lotteries first appeared in 1964 and quickly grew in popularity. Today, all but two of the nation’s fifty states offer them.
In the early American colonies, lotteries were used to finance a wide variety of projects, including paving streets and constructing wharves, as well as building churches and universities. Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British, but his efforts were unsuccessful. As time went on, however, criticisms of lotteries moved from arguing that they were inherently unjust to focusing on their purportedly regressive impact on the poor.