Lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance. It involves selling tickets and holding a drawing for the prizes. The prize amounts are based on the number of tickets sold and the odds of winning. It is also a name for any situation or enterprise that depends on chance and seems to be determined by luck: “Life is a lottery.”

The state lotteries of today, with their huge jackpots and frequent media coverage, have become the quintessential symbol of modern American life. Yet, while lotteries are now a common feature of our society, they have had an erratic and tumultuous history. In the United States, state lotteries began in the 17th century as a way to raise money for colonization and other public purposes. They remained popular, despite a long tradition of Puritan disapproval of gambling.

In the postwar period, a major change in the attitude of the public toward lotteries occurred. Many people came to view them not only as a source of revenue for state governments, but as a means of reducing the burden of taxes on lower-income groups. This belief was fueled by a perception of the regressive nature of many state tax policies and the emergence of large numbers of people who considered themselves committed gamblers, spending a substantial proportion of their incomes on ticket purchases.

Lottery commissions have responded to this shift in the public’s attitudes by stressing two messages primarily. The first is that playing the lottery is fun. They also promote the message that winning the lottery is a good thing, because it benefits public services and improves the quality of life.