A lottery is any scheme for distributing prizes by chance. The word has also become a synonym for anything that seems to be decided by luck or fate, such as a stock market. Originally, lotteries were government-sponsored games in which tokens were distributed and the winner was determined by drawing lots; these kinds of contests have a long record, although their use for material benefits is much more recent.
When state governments introduce lotteries, their arguments for the new enterprise typically focus on the value of the lottery as a painless source of revenue: voters want states to spend more, and politicians look at the lottery as a way to do that without imposing taxes. But once a lottery is established, the debate often shifts to more specific features of its operations, such as its potential for encouraging compulsive gambling and its alleged regressive effect on lower-income people.
There are many different kinds of lotteries, but all involve paying a small amount to be entered in a drawing for a prize, which may be money or any item of value. In addition, the participant must have some consideration, or a reason for paying. Usually, the amount of the payment is not disclosed, but it may be implied in the term “consideration.” The legal definition of a lottery includes any type of game in which there are chances of winning something. Federal statutes prohibit the mailing or transportation in interstate commerce of lottery promotions or tickets.