A lottery is an activity or event in which a prize, often money, is awarded on the basis of chance. Its roots in human history are far reaching, but its use for material gain is relatively recent. It was first recorded as an entertainment during dinner parties in ancient Rome, when emperors distributed prizes of property and slaves as the final amusement during Saturnalian feasts. Lotteries were also used by kings in the Middle Ages, and by towns to raise funds for town projects.

In modern times, state governments enact laws regulating their lottery activities; they create a public agency or corporation to run the lottery, or license private firms in return for a share of profits; and they begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. Because of the pressure for additional revenues, they progressively expand both the number of games and their complexity.

As a result, the lottery is now a multi-billion dollar business that uses sophisticated marketing strategies to promote itself and its new games. This expansion has generated concerns about its impact on the poor, on problem gamblers and about whether it is an appropriate function for government.

Lottery plays are popular with the general population and have wide appeal as a form of gambling. The reason is obvious: Even though the chances of winning are slim, the gratification of an occasional victory may be enough to justify the purchase of a ticket.