Lottery is a form of gambling that offers prizes to participants based on a process that relies entirely on chance. The prizes may be money or other goods and services. Several states have legalized state-sponsored lotteries, although private lotteries are also common. The history of lotteries is rich and diverse. They have long been a popular way to raise funds for a variety of purposes, from building colleges and schools to paving streets and erecting wharves. The idea of a lottery was first recorded in the Old Testament, and Roman emperors used them to give away land and slaves. Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to fund the American Revolution, and George Washington sought a state lottery to help pay off his crushing debts.

State lotteries generate substantial revenues, and a significant portion of those proceeds is spent on prize awards. State governments thus have a substantial financial interest in maximizing lottery revenues and ensuring that the operation of the lotteries does not jeopardize the integrity of the state’s gambling industry. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about the promotion of gambling by a state, especially as that activity disproportionately affects poorer citizens and problem gamblers.

As a result, it is no surprise that state lotteries face widespread controversy. While the debate about the merits of the lottery has shifted over time, it has always focused on specific features of the operations of state lotteries. These include the impact on compulsive gamblers, alleged regressivity of lottery income, and reliance on revenue from the gambling industry.