The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine winners. The word lotteries probably comes from the Dutch, via French, for “the action of drawing lots” (Oxford English Dictionary). Generally, governments have monopolies or exclusive licenses to run state-sponsored games. The lottery is a major source of revenue for states, and pressures are constantly present to increase sales and the number of available games.

There are many different kinds of lottery games, but most share certain features. A central component is the pool of tickets and their counterfoils from which winning numbers or symbols are extracted. The tickets are thoroughly mixed by mechanical means—such as shaking or tossing—and then a random procedure is used to select the winners. This process is normally computerized in order to ensure that chance rather than predetermination is the determining factor.

A second element of all lottery games is that a substantial percentage of the ticket sales is deducted for costs, administrative expenses and profits for the organizers, with the remainder going to the prizes. Some states have a policy of awarding large, single prizes, while others choose to offer several smaller prizes or a mix of both types.

While people in the United States spend billions of dollars on lottery tickets each year, critics raise concerns about the societal costs, such as regressive effects on poorer populations and the problem of compulsive gambling. Despite these criticisms, state lotteries continue to enjoy broad public support. Lottery revenue is often viewed as a more desirable source of government revenue than raising taxes or cutting other state programs.