A lottery is a game of chance in which numbers are drawn at random to determine the winner of a prize. The earliest recorded lotteries were held to raise money for municipal repairs in Rome and, later, in the Low Countries, where towns used them to build walls and town fortifications and help the poor. Today, a public lottery may be a means of raising money for educational purposes or to pay down state debt. Private lotteries can be used to distribute commercial products or real property. They can also be used to select jury members or military conscripts. In a general sense, the word can refer to any scheme for allocating prizes based on chance, including some forms of military conscription and commercial promotions in which goods or services are given away in exchange for a fee.

The main message a state’s lottery commissions try to convey is that state funds from the lottery help a particular public good, such as education. They do not mention the fact that these funds are a small drop in the bucket of state revenue or that, for many people, winning a lottery ticket is akin to spending a tiny percentage of their incomes on a bad bet.

Lotteries are run as businesses whose goal is to maximize revenues. To do so, they must convince a large and varied group of consumers that the lottery is worth playing. Often, this requires the promotion of the lottery as a “game” that is fun and wacky. This coded language obscures the regressivity of the lottery and encourages consumers to spend more than they should on tickets.