Lottery is a type of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine the winners. It has become the primary means of raising money for state governments, as well as a source of attention-grabbing jackpots such as the recent Powerball and Mega Millions games. It is a popular way for states to avoid raising taxes, while still providing essential government services, and has been touted as a painless form of taxation because players voluntarily spend their own money rather than a coercive state taking it away from them by force. Critics argue that state-run lotteries are inefficient, and that they prey on people living in poverty who tend to play more heavily relative to their disposable income.

In the United States, most states operate lotteries, though they vary in the number and types of games offered, the cost of tickets, and the size of prizes. Prizes are usually the remaining value of the pool after expenses (including profits for the promoter and costs of promotion) have been deducted. Historically, prize amounts were fixed, but current practice often allows the promoter to increase or decrease the total prize amount in response to economic trends or other factors.

The growth of state-run lotteries can be attributed to a combination of factors including the widening economic inequality that was occurring in the 1980s, a new materialism that asserted anyone could get rich with sufficient effort or luck, and anti-tax movements that led lawmakers to seek alternatives to increasing taxes. As with most public policy, once a lottery is established, debate and criticism shifts from the general desirability of the venture to more specific features of its operation, such as the problems of compulsive gambling and the regressive impact on lower-income citizens.