What is an Official Lottery?

A lottery is a game of chance in which numbers are drawn to win a prize. A state-run lottery is most commonly used to raise money for public purposes, such as education or road construction. In the United States, state lotteries typically offer three-digit games resembling number games; four-digit games known as scratch-offs; and draw games, which are like classic bingo. In addition to the main games, many lotteries feature other offerings, including instant tickets and video lottery terminals.

In the early years of the United States, lotteries were widely supported by citizens for both private and public ventures. They financed roads, canals, bridges, churches, colleges, libraries, and other public buildings. Some colonies, particularly those on the frontier, even used lotteries to finance militias and fortifications during the French and Indian War.

Lottery opponents questioned both the ethics of funding government services through gambling and the amount of revenue that state governments really stood to gain, writes Cohen. These critics hailed from all political corners, but were largely devout Protestants who viewed government-sanctioned lotteries as morally unconscionable. They also consistently favored other gambling games, which accounted for most of the money brought in by state-run lotteries, including bingo and keno.

In the late twentieth century, as Americans grew more disillusioned with government and with increasing taxes in general, these concerns resurfaced. But the fact remains that people in the US spent upward of $100 billion on lottery tickets in 2021, making it by far the most popular form of gambling in this country.