A lottery is a game in which people pay money to win prizes. The prizes are usually cash, but they can also be goods or services. People play the lottery in many ways, from scratching tickets to choosing numbers on a computer. Some governments organize state-wide lotteries while others sponsor local or regional ones. The latter are often referred to as scratch-off games.

The casting of lots to determine decisions and fates has a long history, but the use of lotteries for material gain is relatively recent. Public lotteries first emerged in the Low Countries in the 15th century for a variety of purposes, including raising funds to build town fortifications and helping the poor.

Many states promote their lotteries by partnering with sports teams and other companies to offer popular products as prizes. The resulting merchandising agreements benefit the sponsors and help reduce the cost of a prize.

A lottery is a business, so it is natural that its marketing efforts should focus on persuading consumers to spend their money. But that kind of advertising can be at odds with the state’s broader policy goals. State officials must balance promoting gambling and fostering a healthy economy with the need to provide social services and protect citizens from problem gambling.