Lottery is an arrangement for the distribution of property or prizes by chance. Its use may vary from an agreement to sell an object, as in a private sale or auction, to a formal legal process for distributing property or a prize. In the latter case the arrangement is known as a public lottery and it can be regulated.
Modern lotteries include games in which tickets are sold for the chance to win a prize. They may also be used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which properties or services are given away by chance and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. A less formal arrangement is a raffle, where an object, work or money is given away without any compensation in return.
In the Low Countries the first lotteries with ticket sales to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor were recorded in the towns of Ghent, Bruges and Utrecht in the 15th century. In the 17th century they became extremely popular and were hailed as a painless form of taxation.
In colonial America, more than 200 lotteries were sanctioned between 1744 and 1776 to finance a wide range of private and public ventures. Among them were roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals and bridges. Lotteries continued to be popular throughout the world as a way of raising revenue without the burden of direct taxes.