The official lottery is a state-run gambling system, and its prizes are awarded to winners by a process of chance. In the United States, each state has its own lottery, and some jurisdictions also participate in multi-state games like Powerball or Mega Millions, which offer larger jackpots. Private lotteries exist in some places as well.

Lottery, from Latin lupus certus (“fate of the sexes”), refers to the process of selecting people for military service or commercial promotion by chance or random selection. The term is sometimes used more broadly to refer to any process of distribution, especially when the distribution involves money or property. Modern lotteries are a form of gambling in which people pay a fee to have the opportunity to win a prize (or sometimes nothing).

There’s an interesting story behind why states started relying on lotteries. The basic argument is that in the immediate post-World War II period, you had big state governments with very large social safety nets and a lot of debt, and it seemed like this was the only way to keep up with the costs.

So the states decided to enact these lotteries, and they figured that, because people are going to gamble anyway, it was better to regulate this and collect tax revenue from it. The problem with this argument is that it’s just not true. Lottery revenues actually account for only about 2 percent of total state revenue, and this is a very minor share of the overall economy.