Lottery is an activity in which people pay a small amount of money for the chance to win a large prize by picking a series of numbers or symbols. Many states run their own state-sponsored lotteries and also contract with private corporations to sell tickets. A key element of all lotteries is a method for collecting and pooling the money staked by bettors, a procedure known as drawing. In the past, this was done by hand, but modern lotteries usually rely on computer systems for recording and processing ticket sales, shuffling them, and selecting winners.

There are several common elements to all lotteries: a means of identifying the bettors, a process for randomly selecting winning numbers or symbols (called a drawing), and a method of awarding prizes. Prizes may be awarded to individuals or groups, and they may be set at a fixed amount for all entries or vary by category. Costs of organizing and running the lottery must be deducted from the total prize pool, and a percentage of the proceeds normally goes as revenues and profits to the lottery organizers or sponsors.

Some critics charge that the marketing of lotteries is biased and misleading, in particular by emphasizing the possibility that bettors can become rich overnight and by inflating the value of jackpot prizes (which are paid in equal annual installments over 20 years, a period that dramatically erodes their current value through inflation). In addition, some argue that lotteries are regressive, in that they benefit wealthier people more than poorer ones.