A lottery is a gambling game in which people purchase tickets for a chance to win a prize based on a random selection. The prizes can range from small items to large sums of money. The odds of winning are largely determined by the number and types of tickets purchased. The term is also used to describe other events in which a ticket can be won through a random selection, such as a seat in the military or the distribution of property by a court.
The modern word lottery is first attested in English in 1560, from Middle Dutch loterje or possibly a calque on Middle Low German lotto “lot, portion, share.” The ancient practice of distributing items by lot is recorded in the Bible (Numbers 26:55-55) when Moses was instructed to conduct a census of the Hebrews and distribute their land according to lots. The modern lottery combines this ancient practice with the need of governments to raise revenue for various purposes.
While the chance of winning a lottery prize may be slim, there are many people who consider it an appropriate form of gambling because it can provide them with entertainment or other non-monetary benefits. In such cases, the disutility of a monetary loss is outweighed by the combined expected utility of monetary and non-monetary benefits.
Most lotteries offer a single large prize in addition to many smaller ones. The prizes are commonly a pool of the money remaining after expenses, such as the profits for the promoters and costs of advertising, have been deducted.