Throughout history, lotteries have been used to fund public projects. For example, George Washington, in the 1760s, ran a lottery that helped pay for his Mountain Road expedition in Virginia. Benjamin Franklin supported lotteries during the American Revolution. John Hancock also ran a lottery to build Faneuil Hall in Boston. However, in the early 1820s, lotteries fell out of favor. People argued that they caused more harm than good. The 1832 census reported 420 lotteries in eight states.
In the Low Countries, the first recorded lotteries were held in the 15th century. These public lotteries were often held to raise money for the poor and for defense. Eventually, the French king, Francis I, made lotteries legal in several towns, including Paris and Ghent. Later, in Italy, the Italian city-state of Genoa started its own lotteries.
Today, many countries have financial lotteries, and although financial lotteries have been accused of being addictive, the money raised can benefit public-sector causes. In any event, a lottery involves a random drawing that selects a single winner, or a small group of winners. Some states have set up procedures to make the process fair to all players.
A lottery can be used for anything from housing units to kindergarten placements to huge cash prizes. The National Basketball Association, for example, holds a lottery to determine draft picks. The winning team receives the chance to select the top college talent.