A game in which tickets are sold for chances to win a prize based on chance. The prizes vary and may be anything from a small item to large sums of money. The game is usually regulated by governments for fairness and legality. A lottery is not considered gambling because the winner is determined by chance rather than skill or strategy. Some governments outlaw lotteries while others endorse them and organize a state or national lottery.
The modern sense of the word originated in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders where towns used it to raise money to fortify their defenses or aid the poor. Francis I introduced it to France in the 1500s and it became very popular; the king was suspected of using it for his own gain but returned the proceeds for redistribution.
Historically, the tokens were placed with others in a receptacle that was shaken; whoever’s name or mark appeared first was awarded the prize. Hence the expression to cast one’s lot with another (1530s, originally biblical) and to draw lots (later a synonym for choice). The practice later spread to colonial America where it helped finance roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, and bridges as well as wars and local militia.
The lottery is also a common method for allocating public resources such as housing or jobs. In the United States, for example, the lottery was once a primary means of distributing seats in Congress and determining who could get a green card or a room assignment. In addition, the lottery was a major source of revenue for the American Revolution and the early colonies; it is estimated that the Continental Congress sanctioned more than 200 lotteries between 1744 and 1776.