The Official Lottery

a public lottery, especially in the United States, in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are awarded to winners in a drawing held at random. The lottery is often used to raise funds for state programs, such as schools and other educational services. It is a major source of revenue for many states, in addition to regular taxes and sin taxes on gambling and income tax on winnings.

The earliest lotteries, in which numbered tickets were sold and prizes given to the holders of numbers drawn at random, appear in records from the Low Countries during the 15th century. These were often run by towns to help raise money for town fortifications, or to benefit the poor.

In colonial America, lotteries became a common method of raising funds for both public and private projects, including building roads, libraries, canals, colleges, and churches. In 1748 Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to help fund a militia for defense against the French. John Hancock organized a lottery to help build Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and George Washington ran one to help finance a road across a mountain pass in Virginia.

Lotteries are popular, and the United States has the highest participation among any country. In 2004 the country had forty-four lotteries and more than a billion people bought tickets. The vast majority of lotteries are operated by state governments that have granted themselves the exclusive right to do so, making them monopolies and barring competition from commercial operators. In most cases, state lotteries are exempt from European Union laws governing free offer and transportation of goods and services across national borders.