A lottery is a game in which tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize, often money. The prizes can vary, from goods to services to real estate and even a lump sum of cash. Lotteries are generally regulated by government authorities to ensure fairness and compliance with laws.

In the United States, people spent over $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021 and it is one of the most popular forms of gambling. State governments promote lotteries as a way to raise revenue without onerous taxes on the working and middle classes. But just how meaningful that revenue is in the overall picture of state budgets, and whether it’s worth it for the average person to bet on the long shot, are questions that deserve more attention than they usually get.

The first recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries of 15th century Burgundy and Flanders, when towns would hold public lots to raise money for town fortifications or for the poor. Francis I of France introduced public lotteries in the 1500s. Earlier, the ancient Romans used the lottery to give away slaves and property.

The prize in a lottery can be a fixed amount of cash or goods, but more commonly it’s a percentage of ticket sales. This arrangement makes it possible for many winners and gives the organizers a fixed risk if ticket sales aren’t sufficient. For example, a 50-50 draw guarantees that the winner will receive half of the total receipts from ticket sales.