Lottery is a form of gambling where people buy tickets for a chance to win big money. It is the most popular form of gambling in the United States and contributes billions to state coffers each year. While many critics consider it a harmful form of gambling, others use the money to benefit society in a variety of ways.

The first recorded lottery was a Chinese game in the 2nd millennium BC. It was a way for the government to finance major projects. However, the Chinese did not have a national lottery until the Qing dynasty (1644–1912).

While there are no historical records of lotteries in Europe before the seventeenth century, they did play a significant role in colonial America. Many of the early American colonies relied on private lotteries to raise money for roads, libraries, churches, colleges and canals. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress used a lottery to raise funds for its army. Lotteries were also a common means of raising money for state-run ventures after the Revolutionary War, including schools and hospitals.

Despite strong Protestant prohibitions against gambling, lottery games were widely accepted in the American colonies. In fact, the first state-run lottery was established in Massachusetts in 1745. In the late twentieth century, however, some advocates began arguing that since everyone gambled anyway, governments should just legalize the game and pocket the profits. They were met with resistance, both ethical and political. Some white voters worried that state-run lotteries would primarily attract Black numbers players who, in turn, would foot the bill for services they did not want to pay for, such as better schools in urban areas.