Lottery is a form of gambling that involves drawing lots for a prize, usually money. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and organize a state or national lottery. Modern lotteries are also used for military conscription and commercial promotions in which property (such as goods, services, or land) is given away by a random procedure. Some states use their profits from lottery sales to finance various institutions, primarily public school systems.
In the early 17th century, colonial America was a fertile ground for private and public lotteries. Benjamin Franklin raised money for the purchase of cannons through a lottery, and George Washington participated in a lottery to raise funds to fight the French in the War of Independence. Lotteries also funded roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, and bridges.
The word “lottery” probably derives from the Old English term lotterie, or Middle Dutch loterie, which is a calque on Old French loterie, “the action of casting lots”. It may have acquired its current senses in the late 16th century, when the practice became widely accepted as a method for raising public funds for various projects. The Continental Congress voted in 1776 to organize a national lottery to support the Revolutionary Army, and Alexander Hamilton wrote that it was the “best and most effectual way of collecting taxes without obtrusive or burdensome taxation.” The earliest state-sponsored lotteries were held in Europe in the first half of the 15th century.