Lottery is a scheme for raising money by selling chances to win prizes, the winners being determined by chance. The prizes are usually money or goods, but can also be services or real estate. The first lotteries were recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century, where towns used them to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor.

In the immediate post-World War II period, when state governments were expanding their social safety nets, they saw lotteries as a way to get more money without especially onerous taxes on lower incomes and working classes. That arrangement, however, began to crumble as states faced inflation and the costs of the Vietnam War.

Today, there are dozens of different national and state lotteries operating. Each state has laws regulating lottery operations and delegating the responsibility for overseeing them to a government agency, typically a division of the department of revenue. These agencies select and train retailers, promote the games, and oversee their operation. In addition, they handle all the money paid for tickets and payouts of winnings.

Despite the hefty jackpots, most of the winnings go to retailers and the lottery organization itself, and very little is left over for the prize winner. Moreover, the disproportionate number of low-income people who play can lead to a spiral of debt and addiction, with families suffering as a result. In fact, the lottery is a powerful form of gambling that has been shown to reduce quality of life.