Lottery is a contest that involves the distribution of prizes by random selection, typically for money or other goods. Many governments organize lotteries, as do private enterprises and charities. Lotteries are controversial, and are often criticized as addictive forms of gambling. But they can also benefit society by raising funds for worthwhile causes.

The earliest public lotteries in the modern sense of the word appeared in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders, with towns trying to raise money to fortify their town walls and help the poor. Francis I of France encouraged their spread in the 16th century, and they became hugely popular in Europe, especially in the Low Countries.

A lottery is a game where people have a low chance of winning by purchasing tickets, which cost a small amount. The winners are selected through a draw of lots, and the prize can be anything from dinnerware to a house. In the United States, state-sponsored lotteries are regulated by laws and managed by a dedicated state lottery division. These agencies select and license retailers, train employees of those retailers to sell and redeem tickets, pay high-tier prizes to players, and oversee the distribution of the prizes.

The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate” or “portion.” Early uses of the term referred to the choice of land parcels in new settlements by casting lots; hence, the expression to cast one’s lot with another (1530s, originally biblical) to agree to share the winnings.