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A game in which participants pay a nominal sum, choose a group of numbers, or have machines randomly select them, and then hope that their numbers will match the winning numbers to win prizes. Most lotteries are state-sponsored and, with a few notable exceptions, rely on the public to finance them. In general, state lotteries begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games and progressively expand their offering in response to the public’s desire for new, exciting opportunities. Revenues typically rise rapidly and then decline, but a lottery’s operators are constantly seeking ways to maintain or increase revenues.

Despite their resemblance to gambling, the casting of lots to determine fates and property distributions has a long history in human societies. The Bible contains several examples, as does ancient Greek literature. The practice was popular among Roman emperors, who often distributed land and slaves by lottery as part of Saturnalian feasts. In the West, the first lottery to distribute prize money for public purposes was held in 1466 in Bruges, Belgium, for municipal repairs.

Today, lotteries are widely used to raise funds for all manner of government and charitable uses. They are especially attractive to politicians, who see them as a painless source of tax revenue. They also appeal to a wide range of people, who are drawn to the idea that they can become rich at a relatively low cost. Research indicates that the player base is disproportionately low-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. Critics contend that lotteries are not just a form of entertainment; they also impose a hidden tax on those least able to afford it.