Lottery is a form of gambling in which prizes are allocated by chance. It is generally considered a harmless activity by many people, but there are some who consider it an addiction. The word lottery may be derived from the Dutch term lot, meaning fate, or by Middle English loterie, from Old French lottere, “action of drawing lots.”

The idea of determining fates and allocating property has long had a record in human history (it is mentioned several times in the Bible), but the lottery as a way to earn money or goods is comparatively modern. It first came to America in the 1620s, when the New England colonies began holding private lotteries to raise funds for such things as building the colony and buying land. Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, and Thomas Jefferson held a lotto to help pay his enormous debts.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia have lotteries. The six that don’t are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada, which don’t have state governments that need the money; Alaska has a budget surplus; Mississippi allows gambling already; and Utah and Nevada have state-owned casinos.

Although playing the lottery may provide some people with a source of painless revenue, it’s important for anyone considering it to keep in mind that the odds are astronomical against winning. Instead, a better option is to use any extra cash to build an emergency fund and pay off credit card debt.