A lottery is a gambling game in which tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize. The word also applies to any situation or enterprise whose outcome seems to be determined by chance:Life is a lottery.

Since 1964, when New Hampshire established the first state lottery, Americans have loved the game. Some play for fun, others are convinced they will be the next big winner—even people who otherwise would never gamble have been known to buy a ticket or two. Super-sized jackpots help boost sales, and the media promotes them as newsworthy, luring more people to try their luck.

Despite the low odds of winning, lottery players contribute billions to the state each year. But most of the money they spend outside their winnings ends up going to commissions for lottery retailers and overhead for the lottery system itself, not to education or other public services. In fact, most state governments end up taking about 40 percent of all lottery revenues, which is a drop in the bucket of overall state revenue.

Lottery is not a new idea: Records of it go back at least to the 15th century, when various towns held private lottery games to raise money for wall and town fortifications, as well as to provide relief for the poor. But the modern commercialization of lotteries began in the United States after World War II, when companies such as Coca-Cola endorsed them, and states legalized them to generate additional revenue for government programs.