A gambling type in which prizes are assigned by chance. Prizes are usually cash or goods. The casting of lots for decisions and fates has a long record in human history (including several instances in the Bible), and the use of lotteries for material gain is also quite ancient, with examples including municipal repairs in Rome and the distribution of enslaved persons by the British Crown in America. Modern state-run lotteries, however, are a relatively recent development.

Since New Hampshire pioneered the modern era of state lotteries in 1964, virtually all states have adopted them. They have proved remarkably popular, and state politicians see them as a source of “painless” revenue. Unlike income taxes, lottery revenues are collected voluntarily by players and paid out to public expenditures without any reduction in existing state expenditures or other burdens on the general population.

Research suggests that lottery participation is very widespread among adults, although the share of households playing is smaller than in other forms of gambling. In addition, there are considerable differences in lottery participation by socio-economic factors, such as the percentage of low-income residents who play daily numbers games and scratch tickets. Other important differences include sex, age and religion. Men play lottery games at higher rates than women; the elderly and religiously conservative people play more than the young or those who are politically liberal, and blacks and Hispanics participate at lower levels than whites. The number of winners in a given drawing depends on how many tickets are sold and how many winning combinations are made. The total number of tickets eligible for a particular drawing is called the pool.