A lottery is a game of chance in which people buy tickets and hope to win prizes. Prizes can be monetary or non-monetary; some are simply a form of entertainment, while others are for charitable causes or other non-profit organizations.

The first recorded lotteries offering money prizes were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century, when towns tried to raise funds for fortifications or to help the poor. A record dated 9 May 1445 at L’Ecluse indicates a lottery of 4,304 tickets and total prize money of 1737 florins (worth about US$170,000 in 2014).

They have long been popular in the United States, where they have financed public projects such as paving streets, building bridges, and rebuilding Faneuil Hall in Boston. They are also used to fund sports teams and cruise ships, and have become a popular means of raising revenue for government agencies.

Those who play the lottery are likely to be middle-income people from middle-class neighborhoods. They are also more likely to be men than women; blacks and Hispanics are more likely to play the lottery than whites; those in their middle age ranges tend to play less; and Catholics tend to play more.

Despite its widespread popularity, the lottery has a reputation for being rigged. It is often advertised misleadingly, inflating the value of winnings and making it harder for those who lose to recoup their losses, and there are reports of a growing number of scams that involve the purchase of tickets by strangers.