Lottery is a game where people bet small amounts of money for the chance to win a prize. Some of these prizes are cash, while others are goods and services. Lotteries have been around for centuries, and while they are often criticized as addictive forms of gambling, they also raise money for many public services. In the United States, state governments run lotteries. They are regulated by laws governing the types of products that can be sold and the amounts that may be won. In some cases, public service organizations run their own lotteries. For example, a lottery might be used to determine the recipients of housing units in subsidized apartment complexes or kindergarten placements at reputable schools.

The earliest known use of a lottery was by the Romans to distribute land, slaves, and other property. During the colonial period, George Washington used a lottery to help finance construction of the Mountain Road in Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin supported the use of lotteries to pay for cannons during the Revolutionary War. However, ten states passed constitutional bans on lotteries between 1844 and 1859. Despite these constitutional restrictions, the lottery continued to grow in popularity throughout the country.

A basic element of a lottery is a means to record the identities and amounts staked by individual bettors. The bettors may write their names on a ticket or deposit a receipt with the lottery organization. The receipts are then shuffled and redrawn, and bettors may later find out if they have won a prize. In modern times, most lotteries use computers to keep track of the bettors and tickets.

Most lotteries allow people to buy tickets at retail stores, nonprofit organizations (such as churches and fraternal societies), service stations, restaurants and bars, bowling alleys, and newsstands. They may also be sold by agents in the field or through mail-order companies. In the United States, there are more than 186,000 retail outlets licensed to sell lottery tickets. Approximately half of these retailers sell online lottery tickets.

Many states have partnered with sports teams and other companies to provide popular products as prizes. For example, in June 2008, the New Jersey lottery offered a scratch-off game in which the top prize was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. These merchandising deals benefit both the lottery and the company, as well as other customers who purchase lottery tickets.

In the United States, state governments run the lotteries and have monopolies on the sale of tickets. This allows them to raise large sums of money without raising taxes, and most of the profits are used for government programs. As of August 2004, the NASPL Web site reports that the United States had forty-six lotteries, and Americans placed $57.4 billion in bets that year. This is up from $52.6 billion in fiscal year 2005. The majority of lottery proceeds come from a small percentage of ticket sales, with the remainder coming from tax revenues and other sources. The United States is the largest market for lottery play, with over 90 percent of its residents living in a state that offers it.