A lottery is an arrangement in which a prize (typically money) is allocated by chance to people who have purchased tickets. The practice dates back thousands of years. It is a form of gambling and it violates the commandment in the Bible against coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his.” (Exodus 20:17)

The first recorded public lotteries offering tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications. They are sometimes referred to as “the oldest organized form of gambling.”

State lotteries have gained broad public approval, especially in times of economic stress because they allow states to maintain education programs and other public goods without increasing taxes. However, studies show that the objective fiscal condition of a state does not influence the degree to which it adopts a lottery.

The lottery has its critics, who claim that it promotes greed and laziness by luring people to spend their hard-earned income on a hopeless endeavor. Others argue that it is an effective tool for raising funds for government projects that would not be possible otherwise. Still, the fact remains that lottery revenues tend to disproportionately come from middle-income neighborhoods and not from low-income areas. One study suggests that, even after paying the winners’ prizes and administrative costs, lottery proceeds remain a net drain on state budgets.