The Official Lottery

An official lottery is a state-run gambling game, usually based on numbers. The games are governed by a variety of state laws that regulate the operation and accounting of prizes; the distribution of lottery revenue; time limits for claiming jackpots; and activities considered illegal (such as selling tickets to minors). A number of states operate their own lotteries, while others participate in multi-state games such as Powerball and Mega Millions.

In the immediate post-World War II period, many politicians looked to lotteries as a way to maintain government services without hiking taxes, which would have riled an increasingly anti-tax electorate. Cohen writes that the lottery appeared to be a “budgetary miracle, the chance for states to make money appear seemingly out of thin air.”

Nevertheless, critics have argued that a state-run lottery is not an efficient way to raise money and is more likely to stimulate other forms of gambling. They have also argued that the lottery creates new gamblers, and the profits from the games are inefficiently collected and distributed.

A wide range of different state and municipal uses for the proceeds have been suggested, including education, economic development, and general state funding. However, in terms of actual state budgets, lottery revenue is a small percentage. In the United States, for example, it amounts to about 1 to 2 percent of total state revenue. Despite this, some people defend the lottery by asserting that it is a form of taxation, but this claim is flawed.