Lottery is a game in which players compete to win prizes based on random chance. In most lotteries, participants write their names and the amounts they stake on a ticket that is subsequently entered into a drawing to determine winners. Prize money may be awarded for a single draw or as a series of draws with increasing prize amounts. Lotteries are popular with many people, although they are not generally considered a good way to increase one’s income.

The term “lottery” derives from Middle Dutch loterie, perhaps via French lotterie, which was in turn a calque on Middle Dutch lotinge (“action of drawing lots”). The first state-sponsored lottery took place in Flanders in the 15th century, and by the 16th it was established in England as well. Lotteries began to gain popularity in the United States after World War II, when state governments sought to expand services without imposing especially high taxes on the working class and middle classes.

Those who play the lottery know they are unlikely to win. But there is an intangible pleasure that comes with taking the long shot—the hope, however improbable, that one day life will somehow improve. In a time of declining social mobility, this desire for instant riches and a more gratifying existence can make people feel that the lottery is their only chance. The purchase of lottery tickets cannot be accounted for by decision models based on expected value maximization, as the ticket price exceeds the expected gain. But more general models based on utility functions defined on things other than lottery outcomes can account for lottery purchases.