The official lottery, or lotteries in general, are a form of gambling in which participants buy chances on winning prizes, such as money or goods. A more specific definition of the term is a procedure for distributing something, especially property or cash, among a group of people by drawing lots. Lotteries have a long history and have been used in several ways, including military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. In modern times, lottery games are generally regulated by state laws.

In a country like the United States, where the lottery is extremely popular, there are many reasons to support regulation. Some argue that it helps prevent problems such as excessive spending and addiction to gambling. Others believe that it is an effective way to distribute public funds and encourage charitable giving. In fact, many states use the proceeds from the lottery to fund public services and programs.

Lottery players are motivated by an inextricable human impulse to gamble. They have a hard time saying no, and it can be dangerous to play unless you are able to control your spending habits. Moreover, the message that the lottery sends to its players is one of civic duty: you can feel good about yourself for playing because it raises money for the state. In reality, though, the percentage of total state revenue that lottery money brings in is very small.