Lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay to have a chance to win a prize, usually money. The prize may be anything from a house to an automobile or to a large sum of cash. The lottery is usually run by a state or a private corporation, and the proceeds from ticket sales go into a pool that includes the prize money. The total value of the prizes is the amount remaining after expenses (such as profits for the promoters and costs of promotion) and taxes or other revenues have been deducted from the prize pool. Modern examples of the lottery include the allocation of military conscription quotas, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure, and the selection of jurors from lists of registered voters. The word lottery is also used colloquially to refer to an arrangement in which one or more prizes are allocated by a process that depends wholly on chance.

Lottery in the modern sense is first attested to be used in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders in towns seeking to raise money to build town fortifications or aid the poor, although similar games had existed for centuries before. The earliest European public lotteries to award money prizes were the venturas, introduced in 1476 in the Italian city-state of Modena under the d’Este family.

The popularity of the lottery has been attributed to its appeal as a way to get rich fast, and it was popularized in the immediate post-World War II period as a means of raising revenue without imposing heavy taxes on working class and middle class citizens. The belief was that everyone would be willing to spend a small amount of money for the opportunity to win a substantial fortune, and that this arrangement was not in violation of the prohibition against evasion of taxation.

People buy lottery tickets with the hope of winning the big jackpot, and many dream about what they will do with all that money. These people are often not aware that the chances of winning are very low, and that they are taking a risk with a substantial investment. But even those who are aware of the odds often play the lottery because they enjoy the thrill of being in a game with such high stakes, and because it can be a painless way to try to improve their lives.

Lottery is sometimes considered a “hidden tax.” The purchase of lottery tickets cannot be explained by decision models based on expected value maximization, as the purchase price is much higher than the expected prize. However, more general models incorporating risk-seeking behavior can account for lottery purchases. It is possible that the excitement of lottery playing can become addictive, and that people can be influenced to make irrational decisions if they are exposed to it frequently enough.