A lottery is a form of gambling in which people buy chances to win prizes, such as money. The prize money is determined by a random drawing of tickets or symbols. The practice of distributing something by lot is ancient, with biblical examples such as the Lord telling Moses to divide land among the people by lots (Numbers 26:55–57). Nero’s Saturnalian feasts included lottery games in which guests were given pieces of wood with numbers on them; winners would take home prizes based on the symbols drawn.

State governments promote lotteries as ways to raise revenue. But just how meaningful this revenue is in broader state budgets, and whether the trade-offs to people who lose money outweigh the entertainment value, are questions worth exploring.

Several different types of lotteries exist, from traditional raffles to computerized games. A central component of all is some means of recording the identities of bettors, the amounts they stake, and the number(s) or other symbols on which they bet. For some lotteries, the bettors’ names are recorded on a ticket that is later shuffled and possibly selected for a drawing; other lotteries involve betting slips with preprinted numbers or symbols.

Regardless of the type of lottery, bettors have a variety of strategies for increasing their odds of winning. For example, they may choose to play only certain lotteries, or only at specific times. They may also try to diversify their number choices, or opt for less popular lottery games that have fewer players.