The official lottery is a scheme of chance for allocating prizes. The prize fund may be a fixed amount of cash or goods, as in the case of the National Lottery in the United Kingdom, which is run by Camelot, or it may be a percentage of total receipts as in the French loteries. The latter format carries less risk to the organizer and allows for a more complex arrangement of prizes.

The first recorded lotteries, offering tickets with a chance of winning money or goods, are found in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Prizes were given for town fortifications, as well as for charitable purposes such as helping the poor. By the early 1800s, lotteries were a staple in many colonial societies. They helped finance private and public ventures including roads, libraries, and churches. Lottery proceeds also helped establish some of America’s first colleges, such as Princeton and Columbia.

But the religious and moral sensitivities that eventually led to prohibition were beginning to turn against gambling of all forms, including lotteries. This, combined with a growing fear of corruption, caused states to start to restrict lottery operations.

But despite the narrower restrictions on lotteries, they continued to play a vital role in state budgets, especially for education. This led to the formation of multi-state lotteries, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, which are popular today. As each state legalized its lottery, neighboring states often followed suit within a few years.