A lottery is a game of chance that awards prizes to people who buy tickets. The prize amount varies depending on the rules, but in general a large number of smaller prizes are offered along with one or more very large prizes. Typically, the winnings must be claimed within certain time frames, and a state agency oversees the operation. Lotteries are popular in many countries and have a long history. Throughout the world, they are often used to raise funds for public projects, such as paving streets or building universities and wharves. In colonial-era America, for example, lotteries helped finance the construction of buildings at Harvard and Yale.
In modern times, the popularity of the lottery has increased dramatically as states have sought ways to fill their budgets without enraging an anti-tax electorate. The first states to adopt state-run lotteries argued that they offered a way to promote gambling and raise money for the public good without inflicting any direct tax burden on the citizenry.
Historically, the lotteries were run as private enterprises in which a licensed promoter would take a cut of the revenues. As states have become more dependent on their lotteries for revenue, however, they have begun to regulate them more closely and impose restrictions on the promoters and on how much of the proceeds are awarded as prizes.
Despite the claims of state officials that lotteries are unbiased, there is evidence that the results are biased. For instance, the distribution of prizes in a lottery is skewed by income, with higher-income people playing at disproportionately greater levels than lower-income people.