A lottery is a competition based on chance in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of winning numbers. Most state lotteries operate as a means of raising revenue for public purposes.

The drawing of winners is the central component of any lottery, and the process may involve mixing the ticket or ticket counterfoils in some mechanical way (shaking, tossing, shaking and tossing) or using computers for random number selection. The drawing is usually followed by announcing the results, which may include the number of winning tickets and symbols, their locations in a prize matrix, and the names of successful applicants.

Making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long record in human history, including several instances in the Bible and the early English colonies, where lotteries were used to finance a variety of public uses, from paving streets to building churches. Lotteries are popular because they are viewed as a painless form of taxation and they offer the tantalizing prospect of instant wealth to those who play them. Despite the fact that gambling is an inherently risky activity, and even though the chances of winning a big jackpot are extremely small, there is a deep-seated and largely unquestioned belief among people that they will win the lottery someday. In an age of inequality and limited social mobility, this belief bolsters the appeal of lottery advertising and contributes to the popularity of the games themselves.