Lottery is a game in which prizes are awarded by chance. The games are often run by government agencies, and they require an element of consideration (like buying a ticket). Prizes may be money or goods.

People have been playing lotteries for centuries. The first records date from the Low Countries in the 15th century, where towns held public lotteries to raise money for a variety of purposes, including town fortifications and helping the poor. Many of the early American colleges owe their existence to lottery funds: Columbia University, Harvard and Yale, among others.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run state-sponsored lotteries. The six that don’t are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah and Nevada — the latter, of course, home to Las Vegas.

One major reason why state governments promote lotteries is that they can raise large amounts of money without imposing much in the way of taxes. This argument is particularly persuasive when state governments are encumbered by budget pressures, but it has also been effective at winning broad public approval for lotteries even when states’ objective fiscal health is strong.

Those with the highest incomes are more likely to play lotteries, and they are also more likely to buy multiple tickets. This might seem counterintuitive, but there is an underlying logic: The more tickets you have, the better your odds are of winning. In addition, there is an intangible pleasure that comes from betting on a long shot: You might not win, but you can feel good about yourself for having tried.