A competition based on chance, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are given to the holders of numbers drawn at random. Most lotteries are conducted by government agencies, but some private companies also operate them. Prizes range from cash to valuable goods and services.

Lottery supporters claim that it is a painless source of revenue, since players are voluntarily spending their money, rather than being forced to pay taxes. This argument is particularly effective in times of economic stress, when states face the prospect of raising tax rates or cutting public programs. However, studies show that lotteries are not necessarily an effective way to finance state budgets.

Although lottery revenues typically expand dramatically after their introduction, they eventually level off and sometimes decline. To sustain revenues, state lotteries must introduce new games regularly. One popular innovation has been scratch-off tickets, which offer lower prize amounts but much higher odds of winning than traditional lottery games.

Lottery play varies by socioeconomic group and other factors. In South Carolina, for example, high-school educated men in their 20s and 30s are the most active lottery players. They are more likely than other demographic groups to be “frequent players,” playing more than once a week. In general, lower-income people play less often. A 2014 poll found that while most Americans consider gambling morally acceptable, 1 in 6 Americans report betting on professional sports. This is likely a reflection of the higher stakes involved in sports betting, as well as broader cultural attitudes toward risk taking and impulsivity.