In a lottery, tickets are purchased for a chance to win a prize. The prizes are usually monetary, but may also be goods or services. Prize money is usually pooled into a central fund, where it is collected by the lottery promoters and then distributed to winners. Tickets are sold at a premium or discounted price. Each ticket is normally divided into fractions, such as tenths, each of which is bought for slightly more than its share in the prize fund. This arrangement allows a large number of sales agents to participate in the lottery without investing very much capital, and is usually the best way to distribute large prizes to the general public.
Historically, lotteries have been popular with the public and widely accepted as painless forms of taxation. In colonial America, they were used to raise funds for roads, canals, and churches; for public schools, colleges, and libraries; and for a wide variety of other private and public projects. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.
One of the most important messages that state governments convey in connection with lotteries is that they provide an opportunity to benefit the community by contributing to a specific public project. This message has become especially effective during times of economic stress, when the prospect of raising taxes or cutting public programs is particularly unpopular. However, studies have shown that the objective fiscal condition of a state has little bearing on whether or when it adopts a lottery.