Lottery is a game of chance that gives participants the opportunity to win money by selecting a series of numbers or symbols. A drawing is then held to determine the winners. The word lottery comes from the French verb loter “to draw lots”; the term was probably first used in English in 1569 in reference to the action of selecting numbers in a state lottery. In the United States, lottery games are operated by state governments that have been granted exclusive rights to conduct them and to use the proceeds for public purposes. As of August 2004, more than forty states and the District of Columbia have lotteries.

Buying a ticket is simple and inexpensive. The potential jackpot is enormous and the chance to turn a small investment into millions of dollars provides a compelling temptation. Lottery players include many low-income people who can ill afford to lose even a few dollars. Some critics charge that lotteries promote addictive gambling behavior and are a disguised tax on those least able to afford it.

Since the rebirth of state-sponsored lotteries in the late 1960s, their popularity has grown rapidly, with most states now having one. In 2004 lottery revenues accounted for about 4% of all federal revenues. The most popular type of lottery in the United States is the instant-play scratch-off tickets, which account for about half of total ticket sales. These games are available at most convenience stores, gas stations, supermarkets, and other retailers. The instant-play tickets are based on a simple concept: each purchase costs $1 and the ticket holder has a chance to win a prize ranging from $10 to $500 or more.

The game of choosing fates and fortunes by casting lots has a long history, including several references in the Bible. In modern times, it has been used to raise funds for a wide range of public projects and for private gain. In the United States, the lottery has become an entrenched part of the culture. In addition to its substantial revenue raising capacity, it has become an important source of civic entertainment.

In the early days of American colonial history, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin supported lotteries to pay for roads and cannons during the Revolutionary War. John Hancock ran a lottery to finance the reconstruction of Faneuil Hall in Boston. However, most colonial-era lotteries were unsuccessful and were discontinued in the 1820s.

The modern era of state-sponsored lotteries began with New Hampshire in 1964. Inspired by its success, New York introduced a lottery in 1966 and was followed by other states. In fiscal year 2006, lotteries generated profits of $17.1 billion. The states allocate a portion of these profits to various beneficiaries, with most of the money going to education. Some states also distribute the proceeds to their general fund or other programs. Other states have established lotteries for specific groups, such as the elderly or the disabled, and to attract tourists.