Lottery is a type of gambling in which players pay to purchase chances for winning a prize based on a random drawing. State governments generally organize these games and set the rules for them, but private companies also run lottery-like games for profit. The first modern public lotteries were held in the 17th century, when the Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery to raise funds for the American Revolution. Lotteries grew in popularity during colonial America, raising money for both public and private ventures, including roads, canals, churches, colleges, schools, and other public buildings. Privately organized lotteries were common as well, as a means of selling products or properties for more money than could be obtained through a regular sale.

The primary argument used in favor of state lotteries is that they represent a painless form of taxation because players voluntarily spend their own money on the tickets, with the proceeds going to a public cause. This argument is especially persuasive during times of economic stress, when voters fear higher taxes or cuts in public services. But studies have shown that the popularity of lotteries does not depend on a state’s objective financial health, and they can even increase during periods of fiscal prosperity.

State lotteries are often criticized for encouraging addictive behavior, and research has found that the likelihood of winning the lottery declines as income rises. In addition, the chance of winning is very small — there is a greater probability of being struck by lightning or becoming a billionaire than of winning the Powerball jackpot.