A contest in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to those whose numbers are drawn at random; often sponsored by a government as a means of raising money. Also used figuratively to refer to any event whose outcome depends on fate, such as combat duty.

Throughout history, people have used lots to distribute property, slaves, and other goods. Moses was instructed to draw lots for land distribution in the Old Testament, and Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by lottery. In colonial America, lotteries financed roads, libraries, schools, colleges, canals, bridges, and public works projects.

While many critics consider lottery gambling to be irrational, some people are quite serious about their participation in the game. Among these are some who play for years, spending $50 or $100 per week. They go in clear-eyed about the odds and have quote-unquote systems based on luck, like lucky numbers, stores, and times of day to buy tickets.

A basic requirement for a lottery is some method of recording the identity of the bettors and their stakes. This is usually done by requiring each bettor to write his or her name on a ticket that is deposited for later shuffling and selection in the lottery drawing. The winnings are then returned to the bettors. Alternatively, a computer system can record and display all the tickets submitted for the lottery.