Lottery is a form of gambling in which the winners are selected by chance. The prize can be a fixed sum of money or goods. There are many variations on this basic concept. Some states organize national or regional lotteries in which people buy tickets to win a grand prize. Other lotteries offer smaller prizes for specific numbers or combinations of numbers.
Lotteries have been used for centuries to raise money for a variety of public and private ventures. They can be legal, regulated or unregulated. In the United States, state laws govern the operation of lotteries and delegate the responsibility for administration to a lottery board or commission. The first record of the word in English is from 1567, when Queen Elizabeth I organized the world’s first state lottery to raise funds for ships and ports and “such other good publick works”.
Modern lotteries use computerized systems to register ticket purchases, identify winning numbers or symbols, and select winners. In some cases, the winner’s identity may be concealed until he or she receives the prize. The earliest known European lotteries were held as an amusement at dinner parties, with each guest receiving a ticket and the prizes being fancy items such as dinnerware.
There are many moral arguments against gambling and in particular lotteries. One is that they are addictive forms of entertainment. The other is that they are a form of regressive taxation, which hurts those who can least afford it (unlike, say, a sales tax, which is paid by everyone regardless of income). Still others point out that lotteries often prey on the illusory hopes of poor people, and that this is unseemly.
The underlying motivation for most people who play the lottery is the desire to gain some benefit, usually financial, but sometimes non-financial. The cost of the ticket and the likelihood of winning determine the utility of the ticket for each person. If the expected utility of the monetary prize exceeds the disutility of the monetary loss, then the purchase of a ticket is rational for that individual. The same logic applies to most other gambling activities.