Lottery is a gambling game or method of raising money in which tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. Often the prize is a sum of money or goods. The term may also be used to describe any activity or event in which the outcome seems to depend on chance: Life’s a lottery.

The first recorded lotteries were probably held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery in 1769 to raise funds for the purchase of cannons to defend Philadelphia, and George Washington participated in one that advertised land and slaves as prizes in The Virginia Gazette.

States enact laws to regulate the operation of lotteries, and the responsibility for running them is typically delegated to a special lottery commission. These organizations select and train retailers to sell lottery tickets, conduct inspections to ensure that retailers comply with state law, oversee the printing and distribution of winning ticket numbers and checks, collect taxes from winners, pay high-tier prizes, and otherwise ensure the integrity of the games.

Many people who play the lottery consciously embrace the irrational: They know that odds are long, but they have a feeling that the slim chance of a win will allow them to rewrite their story. These people are not a minority, but they are a small percentage of the lottery players. The rest are playing a much bigger lottery.