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Lottery is a form of gambling in which players try to win a prize by matching numbers. Most states, the District of Columbia and some other governments have lotteries to raise money for various public purposes. People may also play privately-run games, such as scratch-off lottery tickets. Lottery prizes are commonly cash or merchandise, but some are services such as vacations and cars. Some state and local governments prohibit lotteries, while others endorse them and regulate their operations. Lotteries are a common source of income for the poor and can cause addiction in some players.

Lotteries are a method of distributing property by chance, used since ancient times. The Bible mentions a number of lotteries and the Roman emperors gave away slaves and property by chance in Saturnalian feasts. In the 17th century, many American colonies held lotteries to raise money for both private and public projects. Some of these projects include roads, canals and bridges. Others funded universities, churches, libraries and munitions factories. In addition, lotteries were a popular way to fund colonial militia.

A modern lottery consists of a pool of money from the sale of tickets, and a drawing of lots to determine winners. The total value of the prizes is typically the amount remaining after all expenses—including profits for the promoter, costs of organization and promotion, and taxes or other revenues—are deducted. The amount returned to the bettors can vary, but is usually more than 50 percent for numbers games.

The name of the game comes from the Italian word lotto, a combination of the Latin verb lottere, meaning “to throw” and the noun lot, meaning “fate.” The first European lotteries appeared in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders with towns attempting to raise funds to fortify defenses or aid the poor. Francis I of France permitted lotteries in several cities from 1520 to 1539.

In the United States, lotteries are regulated by state laws and overseen by a lottery commission or board. These bodies select and license retailers, train them to use lottery terminals, redeem tickets and pay high-tier prizes, assist retail stores in promoting lotteries and ensure that lottery rules are followed. Most states have laws requiring lottery commissions to provide information on how to play responsibly and to publish winning numbers.

The largest category of lottery games is the scratch-off variety, which accounts for between 60 and 65 percent of all sales. These games are considered regressive, because the players who buy them are disproportionately lower-income. The next most regressive are daily number games. Finally, there are the big-ticket lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions, which account for up to 25 percent of all sales. In each case, the winner must match all six numbers to claim a prize. A high prize value tends to attract more people, but a rollover drawing results in lower prize amounts than if the jackpot is won. This has led some to criticize large-scale lotteries as a type of hidden tax on poor people.