The Official Lottery

The official lottery is the state-sponsored system of distributing prizes by chance. Its basic elements are a number of tickets, a pool of numbers, and a drawing for a prize.

The first lotteries were established in Europe in the 15th century as towns sought to raise money for defensive purposes or to aid poor people. They used a system of ticketing, depositing the tickets with the lottery organization for possible selection in a drawing; this was the precursor of the modern computerized lottery.

During the 1970s and ’80s, many states started to explore the possibilities of legalizing the lottery. They found it could be a silver bullet in a budgetary crisis; but they had to sell the idea as a nonpartisan way of raising money for education, elderly care or public parks.

While this narrower approach suited the political ambitions of those who advocated legalization, it was not without downsides. For one thing, it fueled abuses of the lottery that made its opponents more effective at demonizing it.

Scammers are a common occurrence in the lottery industry; phony agents call winners and demand money to claim their prizes, often using fictitious names and pretending to be government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission or National Sweepstakes Bureau.

In some cases, these crooks even make up their own lottery or sweepstakes name and logo to appear legitimate and draw the attention of potential buyers. These schemes can work well in the short term, but they can also lead to long-term financial problems.