What is an Official Lottery?

Official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among many people by chance, based on the results of random drawings. Lotteries are legal in many jurisdictions, and governments use them to raise funds for a variety of public purposes, such as public works projects, wars, education, or charity. The term “lottery” is also used for commercial promotions in which a prize (such as goods or services) is awarded through a random procedure, such as the selection of jurors or winners of a sweepstakes.

In the early America, Cohen writes, lotteries grew up as “budgetary miracles, the opportunity for states to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air without the unpleasantness of raising taxes.” Benjamin Franklin ran one to help finance Boston’s Faneuil Hall; John Hancock backed another to help build a road over Virginia’s Mountain Pass. George Washington even tried to run a lottery to pay for the Revolutionary War.

But while state lotteries have proven effective at generating substantial revenues, they are far from free of serious problems. For one thing, they are regressive. Research has shown that low-income Americans tend to spend more on instant scratch-off games, and win fewer of the top prizes, than higher income citizens do. And they are more likely to be addicted to gambling, a condition known as compulsive disorder. In fact, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that about six million Americans are addicted to gambling.