Lottery is a form of gambling where people pay money to buy tickets and try to match numbers that are randomly spit out by machines. The most common type of lottery is one run by the government, mostly on a state level (although some games span multiple states). Lottery profits are often rolled into state budgets as tax revenue. Some states also allow non-profit organizations to run lotteries in exchange for a percentage of the ticket sales.
Lotteries have a long history in Europe, beginning in the 1500s in Burgundy and Flanders with towns attempting to raise funds to fortify defenses or aid the poor. In the US, the first state-sponsored lotteries were held in 1826, although private lotteries began earlier.
The word lottery comes from the Latin for drawing lots, and is believed to be derived via French loterie or Middle Dutch lotinge. It was used during the Roman Empire as an amusement at dinner parties, with guests putting their names in a pot for prizes such as fine dinnerware. The game became more serious in the late 1600s, when it was used to draw rations for soldiers and ration cards for civilians.
In modern times, lotteries are used to distribute everything from public works contracts to housing units. In the US, most state and local governments sponsor lotteries, and many of them are run by independent corporations that use a combination of a prize pool and random selection of tickets to determine winners. Many states have laws that prohibit the reselling of winning tickets. The winners receive the money in the form of cash or goods, such as cars and vacations.