What is an Official Lottery?

An official lottery is a government-sponsored and managed gaming system in which players purchase shares of chance. It is governed by state laws that establish rules and procedures for participation, including time limits for claiming prizes, and prohibited activities. State laws also establish how the proceeds are distributed, as well as whether the winnings can be taxable. In the United States, there are state-controlled lotteries and multistate games like Mega Millions.

The first recorded evidence of lotteries dates back to the Chinese Han dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. The early games were a form of charity and supported public works, such as town fortifications. During the fourteenth century, they began to be used to raise money for the English crown. Queen Elizabeth I chartered the nation’s first lottery in 1567, calling for its profits to be used for “reparation of the Havens and strength of the Realm.” Tickets cost ten shillings. Each bettor wrote his name and amount staked on the ticket, which was deposited with the lottery organization for subsequent shuffling and selection in the drawing.

While lottery opponents hailed from all walks of life, many were devout Protestants who regarded the idea of funding public services through gambling as morally unconscionable. In addition, the large prize payouts often fueled accusations of corruption and bribery. As a result, state-controlled lotteries became increasingly popular throughout the United States.