The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a procedure in which something, usually money or prizes, is distributed among a large group of people who purchase chances for it by lot. It differs from other forms of gambling in that people pay a price for the chance to win, and there are rules governing how winning tickets can be used. In many states, the proceeds from a lottery are used to support education and other public services.

Government-run lotteries have long been a popular source of revenue, and the first recorded examples are found in ancient China: keno slips dating from the Han dynasty (205 to 187 BC). They were common in Europe as well, and in the US by the 1800s. But a combination of corruption, moral uneasiness, and the rise of bond sales and standardized taxation led to their decline. Only Louisiana maintained a state-run lottery until Congress put an end to it in 1890.

Today, more than thirty states have state-run lotteries. They are regulated by statutes that specify prize categories, the length of time that winners have to claim their prizes after the relevant drawing, and the documentation required to prove that a winning ticket is genuine. In addition, the statutes stipulate what percentage of the prize money is to be paid out in prizes and how the rest is to be accounted for.

A few states, such as New Jersey, run hotlines to help compulsive lottery players, and others have considered doing so. But for the most part, officials have tended to ignore the problem.