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Lottery is a scheme for the distribution of prizes by chance. In ancient times, it was common for wealthy noblemen to hold lotteries at dinner parties where the prize might consist of fancy goods like dinnerware. The lottery was also a popular way to raise funds for public projects, including canals, bridges and roads. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson used a private lottery to try to alleviate his crushing debts.

The first modern lotteries appeared in the 15th century in Burgundy and Flanders, with towns attempting to raise funds for fortifications and poor relief. The word is probably a calque of Middle Dutch lotterie, but it may have been borrowed earlier from Latin sortilegij or “casting of lots”.

In the United States, federal taxes on lottery winnings are 24 percent. State and local taxes can add up to much more, so that a winner might end up with only half of the jackpot after taxes.

Lottery revenues typically grow dramatically upon introduction, but then level off and even begin to decline. This leads to constant efforts to introduce new games, in the hope that they will revive interest and raise revenue. As a result, lottery officials rarely have a coherent overall strategy for managing the activity they profit from.