A lottery is a game of chance in which players pay for a ticket and either select numbers or let machines randomly spit out groups of numbers. The player wins a prize if enough of his or her numbers match those randomly drawn by the machine. Lottery is a popular way for states to raise money for a wide range of public uses, from street paving to kindergarten placements. Although the casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history in human culture, state-sponsored lotteries to distribute money are more recent.

Many people buy tickets in the hope of winning big sums of money, and as a result they contribute billions in taxes that could be better spent on subsidized housing or a university education for their children. This money is, however, not free; for every dollar spent on a lottery ticket the government must spend another dollar to operate it. So the real question is whether this additional expenditure is worthwhile.

Lotteries are run like businesses with a clear focus on maximizing revenues. They promote the games through advertising, and they set their prices at levels that are meant to maximize sales. These practices are controversial, particularly when they target specific groups of the population such as lower-income individuals and compulsive gamblers. Some states have reacted to these concerns by regulating the games or prohibiting them, but other states have continued to promote lotteries in the face of such criticisms.