Lottery is a gambling game in which numbers are drawn for prizes. The word is also used to describe any scheme for distribution of prizes or goods that depends on chance. Modern examples include a lottery for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a public school, as well as state and local lotteries for the drawing of jurors or of governmental jobs. The prize may be a fixed amount of cash or goods; more commonly it is a percentage of the total receipts from ticket sales. In the latter case, expenses such as promotional costs and taxes are deducted from the prize pool before awarding the prizes.
The earliest lotteries appear to have been held during the Roman Empire, as a form of entertainment at dinner parties. In the Low Countries in the 15th century, towns organized lotteries to raise money for town fortifications or to aid the poor. Francis I of France authorized the first French public lottery in 1539.
The most common lotteries today are those that award a small number of large cash prizes, often in the form of a jackpot that reaches an indeterminate level before it is won. In addition, some states hold lotteries for a variety of goods and services, such as medical treatment or automobiles. In these lotteries, the prize is awarded by random selection from a list of eligible entries.