Lottery is a kind of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random to determine winners of prizes. The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century to raise money for building town fortifications and helping poor people.

State lotteries are governed by laws regulating their operation. Typically, each lottery is run by a separate department or division within the state government, and its employees are responsible for recruiting retailers, training them to use lottery terminals, and educating the public on how to play. These departments are also responsible for the selection of winning tickets, paying high-tier prizes to players, and ensuring that retail workers and players comply with state laws.

When a new lottery is introduced, its revenues usually expand dramatically in the first few months, but eventually begin to level off and sometimes decline. The state then introduces new games to maintain or increase its revenue.

Almost every state has adopted a lottery since 1964, and the patterns of adoption have been remarkably consistent. In each case, the political dynamics are similar: voters support lotteries as a source of “painless” tax revenue—that is, players voluntarily spend their money for a public good. Politicians are attracted to lotteries as a way to obtain tax dollars without having to raise general taxes or cutting budget items.

Many state-sponsored lotteries promote the message that playing the lottery is a form of civic duty, a way to show your support for education or other worthy causes. But the truth is that playing the lottery is just another form of gambling, and people who win large amounts of money often lose a great deal more than they have won.