Lottery is a form of gambling in which multiple people buy tickets for a chance to win a prize, often cash. It is also used by government agencies to raise money for a wide variety of public uses.
The idea of choosing the winners of a prize by random selection is very old. It is mentioned in the Bible, with God instructing Moses to take a census of Israel and then divide the land by lot. Roman emperors reportedly gave away property and slaves in this way as well. Lotteries were introduced to the United States by British colonists, but they were not widely accepted at first. In fact, ten states banned them between 1844 and 1859.
Today, many state and federal governments use lotteries to raise funds for a wide variety of purposes, including public works projects, education, and medical research. They can be organized so that the proceeds from each ticket sale are divided into a fixed amount of prize money, or they can use percentages of the total receipts as prizes.
The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or luck. It is believed that the earliest lottery drawings took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when various towns raised money for walls and town fortifications by selling tickets. In the 17th century, it became common in England and the United States to hold public lotteries as a means of collecting “voluntary taxes,” which helped fund the founding of Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and King’s College in America.