A lottery is a game in which people pay to play for prizes. Prizes can be money or goods. The players choose a group of numbers or have machines randomly select them and, if enough numbers match, the winner gets the prize. The game is not very complicated and can be fun to play. In the United States, many states run lotteries to raise money for projects and other purposes. Lottery prizes may be big or small, but in either case, they must be matched to the costs of organizing and promoting the lottery. A percentage of the total pool also goes to profits and revenues for the state or sponsor.

Lottery advertisements typically rely on two messages — that playing is fun and that the state needs the money. These messages, however, obscure the regressivity of lottery gambling and the way that it lures low-income and marginalized people to spend large portions of their incomes on tickets.

The modern lottery was developed in the immediate post-World War II era, when state governments needed new revenue sources to expand their array of services and avoid onerous taxes on the working class. State leaders, like Alexander Hamilton, hoped that a well-run lottery would be a popular alternative to higher taxes. But this arrangement was flawed from the start. It rewarded a relatively few rich people and disproportionately benefited lower-income and marginalized groups. Moreover, it led to an unhealthy and dangerous dependence on luck.