A lottery is a low-odds game of chance or process that selects winners through a random drawing. It is often used in decision-making situations where demand for something is high and there are limited resources, such as sports team drafts or kindergarten placements. Lotteries are typically regulated by state or federal governments.

A common type of lottery involves paying an entry fee to participate in a drawing for prizes that may be property, goods, services, money, or even the right to vote for political office. This is sometimes referred to as gambling, but it is not always considered so under strict definitions. Some types of lottery do not involve payment, such as those conducted for military conscription and commercial promotions.

The first European lotteries appeared in the 15th century in Burgundy and Flanders with towns trying to raise funds to fortify defenses or help the poor. Francis I of France allowed the establishment of lotteries for private and public profit in several cities between 1520 and 1539. Possibly the first European public lottery to award money prizes was the ventura held in the city-state of Modena under the patronage of the d’Este family since 1476.

State officials promote lotteries by arguing that they are an effective way to increase revenue without raising taxes or increasing the burden on middle- and working-class families. They argue that the money raised by lotteries goes to good causes, such as education or healthcare. They also point out that a percentage of profits are donated to charity and that people can feel good about their participation, regardless of whether they win or lose.