A lottery is a game in which tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize, such as cash or goods. The drawing of winners is done by chance. Some people play the lottery in order to become wealthy, while others use it as a source of entertainment. In the United States, it is estimated that 50 percent of Americans buy a ticket at least once a year. Lottery players are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. They also tend to be male. The purchase of a ticket can be rationalized by decision models based on expected value maximization, if the entertainment value and/or nonmonetary benefits obtained from playing outweigh the disutility of a monetary loss.
A variety of prizes can be awarded in a lottery, but the most common are cash. The prize may be a fixed amount of money, or it can be a percentage of the total receipts. Various expenses, such as costs of organizing and promoting the lottery, must be deducted from this pool. Many governments and corporations run a lottery to raise funds for public projects.
In the earliest times, towns in the Low Countries held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. These were the first recorded lotteries to offer tickets with money as the prize. In the 17th century, colonial America financed public works through lotteries. These included canals, bridges, schools, colleges, and churches. Lotteries were also used to finance military expeditions against Canada.