a competition in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to the holders of those numbers drawn at random; often used as a way of raising funds for the state or other charities. Historically, the word has also been applied to any event whose outcome depends on chance rather than skill. See also chance, lottery general, and chance game.

In the United States, the lottery is a national pastime that contributes billions of dollars to public coffers each year. While many players enjoy the thrill of winning, the odds are very low and playing the lottery should be considered an entertainment activity only.

Making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long history (including several instances in the Bible), but lotteries offering money prizes are of more recent origin, beginning in the Low Countries around the 15th century. Town records from Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges suggest that public lotteries were organized to raise funds for such purposes as town fortifications, public works projects, and aid to the poor.

Lotteries have become increasingly common in the United States since the 1970s, when New York became the first state to introduce a lottery and encourage the practice. Since then, more than 200 states have introduced games. Many states rely on the proceeds of their lotteries to help fund public projects and services, including schools, roads, hospitals, and colleges.

The National Association of State Lottery Professionals says that in 2003, there were nearly 186,000 retailers selling lottery tickets, with most located in convenience stores, service stations, restaurants and bars, and bowling alleys. About three-fourths of all retailers offer online lottery sales.