A lottery is a form of gambling where people pay to be randomly selected for a prize. Some governments run lotteries, while others delegate the responsibility to private companies or charitable, religious or educational organizations. Regardless of who runs them, most lotteries require some sort of system for collecting and pooling the money staked as bets and a way to record or identify the winners.
Many countries have laws governing lotteries, and some states delegate authority to special lottery boards or commissions. These entities select and train retailers to sell tickets, redeem winning tickets and oversee sales to ensure compliance with state law. They also organize the draw for the highest-tier prizes and provide assistance to players and retailers. They may also establish rules and regulations for promoting the games, awarding prizes and ensuring fair play.
The first European lotteries in the modern sense of the word appeared in 15th-century Burgundy and Flanders with towns seeking funds for defense or to aid the poor. Francis I of France promoted them for profit in several cities from 1520 to 1539.
In the US, private lotteries were once common as a method of raising “voluntary taxes,” and some helped build colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and King’s College (now Columbia). Today, only a few privately organized lotteries exist, but national lotteries are quite popular. They typically have a much broader number pool than local or state lotteries and offer higher odds for winning, but require a person to be present at the time of the drawing.