Official lottery is a form of gambling whereby numbers are drawn at random to determine winners. This activity is widespread throughout the world and is often associated with state-sponsored games. It is a popular pastime among the general public, with some 60% of adults playing at least once a year.

Although casting lots to make decisions or determine fates has a long record in human history, lotteries in the modern sense of the word are much more recent. The first publicly organized lottery to distribute prize money was held in Bruges, Belgium in 1466, for the announced purpose of helping the poor. Despite this ancient origin, lottery betting has grown rapidly and is now one of the most popular forms of gambling.

In the United States, the modern era of state lotteries began in New Hampshire in 1964. Since then, the phenomenon has spread remarkably quickly and is now prevalent in 37 states. In addition to its wide appeal among the general public, lotteries have developed extensive specific constituencies such as convenience store operators (who buy tickets in large quantities for display); lottery suppliers and their heavy contributions to state political campaigns; teachers, whose appropriations from the state are often earmarked for the lottery; and legislators, who are quick to adopt lotteries because they increase state revenue.

The principal argument used to support lotteries is that they provide a source of “painless” revenue for the state, since people are voluntarily spending their money rather than having it taken from them by taxation. Critics counter that lottery revenues are a major regressive tax on lower-income groups and that, more fundamentally, they promote addictive behavior and deprive the state of its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens.