A competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to those who match a number drawn at random. The word is probably derived from the Low Countries, where towns held public lotteries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications and aid the poor.

People play the lottery to win big prizes, like money or houses. It’s an inextricable human impulse, and when the jackpots skyrocket to hundreds of millions or even billions, a fever sweeps the country. But when the winners take home their winnings, experts warn them against making any drastic changes right away. The prize-winning hysteria can be a slippery slope that leads to financial ruin.

The first step if you win the lottery is to establish proof that it’s your ticket, then hire a financial team that includes a lawyer for estate planning and a certified public accountant to help with taxes. You’ll also need to find a new place to live. Some of the biggest lottery winners have gotten into trouble by buying expensive yachts and sports cars or relocating to other states.

The lottery is run by state governments or a private organization that has the authority to sell tickets and collect proceeds for a specific purpose, such as education. It is a popular way to raise money and can be used in conjunction with other fundraising methods. In colonial America, it was often used to fund public projects such as roads, canals, libraries and colleges, and helped finance the French and Indian War.