Lottery is a type of gambling game wherein people purchase tickets and win a prize based on the number drawn. A lottery is also a system of determining the winners of events or situations, such as who gets into school, who gets the job, or who gets to live in which apartment building. The word lottery is derived from Middle Dutch loterie, which itself is probably a calque on Middle French lotinge or Loterie Royale, the royal-authorized public lottery introduced in France in 1539.

Some state governments use the revenue from a lottery to pay for programs and services such as education, health, social welfare, and infrastructure. These programs are often referred to as the social safety net. The arrangement worked well in the immediate post-World War II period when states could expand their array of services without imposing particularly onerous taxes on the working and middle classes. However, it was not sustainable in the face of inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War.

When a state relies heavily on lottery winnings to subsidize its budget, critics argue that it is unfairly burdening the poor. A popular moral argument is that the lottery violates the idea of voluntary taxation by forcing the poor to pay for a chance to win a prize that benefits those who have more money.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, lotteries played an important role in the early days of the United States, when its banking and taxation systems were still developing. Famous American leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin used them to retire debts and buy cannons for Philadelphia. Today, the lottery continues to be a popular form of entertainment and raises significant amounts of money for state governments. Winners may choose to receive their winnings in a lump sum or as an annuity. Lump sum means that they will be awarded all of the aggregate winnings at once, whereas annuity means that they will receive a small amount each year for the rest of their lives.