A lottery is a game of chance sponsored by a state in which people can win a cash prize for a small amount of money. The chances of winning the cash prize are usually very low but the number of dollars paid out generally exceeds the amount of money invested, thus ensuring a profit for the sponsoring state. Lotteries are very popular in Europe and the United States. They raise funds for public projects such as roads, bridges, and schools and hospitals, and have been used to finance the creation of famous American colleges like Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale, as well as a wide variety of industrial businesses. They are also used to fund charitable activities and community development projects.

A major argument for the adoption of a state lottery is that it allows people to participate in gambling while at the same time supporting a particular public service, such as education. This message has been successful at attracting and maintaining broad public approval for lotteries, especially in times of economic stress when states need additional revenue to support their social safety nets.

But many of the same moral arguments that oppose lottery gambling apply to state-sponsored lotteries as well. One is that the regressive nature of state lotteries hurts poorer residents who play the games most often, since the proceeds are a form of “voluntary” taxation (taxes are considered regressive when they impose a higher burden on those with lower incomes). Another objection is that lottery revenues divert spending from other government expenditures such as social security, retirement, or school tuition.