Lottery is a form of gambling that involves drawing numbers for prizes, usually money. It is most often run by state governments, although private businesses and organizations may also operate lotteries.

Almost all states, and many countries, conduct some sort of lottery. Some have a single game, such as the Powerball, while others have multiple games and different ways to win. The odds of winning vary by game and are determined by the number of tickets sold and how the numbers are drawn. In some states, a portion of the proceeds are earmarked for education or public services. Regardless of the amount of money that is won, most participants lose more than they gain.

The casting of lots to decide things has a long history, but the first recorded public lotteries with prize money occurred in the Low Countries in the 15th century for town fortifications and to help poor people. Today, state lotteries are a major source of revenue in many countries, raising billions in the United States alone.

A key factor in gaining and maintaining public support for lotteries is that the funds raised are perceived to benefit a particular public service, such as education. This argument is especially effective in times of economic stress, when potential tax increases or cuts to public programs are a real possibility.

But studies suggest that the real reason lottery profits increase is because of their disproportionate appeal to low-income people and minorities. Vox recently ran an article on the subject, citing research that shows lottery ticket sales are concentrated in zip codes with more low-income and minority residents.