A gambling game or method of raising money for some public or charitable purpose in which a number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held to allocate prizes. The name derives from the practice of distributing property or other items by lot in ancient times. Several Old Testament passages describe God instructing Moses to take a census of the Israelites and divide land among them by lot, and Roman emperors used lotteries as entertainment at Saturnalian feasts and other celebrations. The term was introduced into English in the 1560s from Italian lotteria and French loterie, but it is also cognate with Old English hlot and Germanic löt.
Modern lotteries often offer a large cash prize as the main attraction, with other smaller prizes, and usually require payment of a small sum for a chance to win. A small percentage of ticket sales is retained by the promoter as profits and other expenses, and the rest is deposited in a prize pool for the winners. These are the types of lotteries that most people think of when they hear the word. Other kinds of lotteries are used for military conscription, commercial promotions, and determining jury members or room assignments.
The message that lottery promoters primarily convey is that playing the lottery is fun, and that people should enjoy the experience of scratching a ticket. But they also make the case that the improbable prize of instant riches will help people get ahead, which obscures the regressivity of the lottery and the fact that it gives hope to people who might not otherwise have it.