The official lottery is run by state governments and subject to the laws of those states, but there are some common features. Unlike casinos, the state lotteries aren’t overseen by federal authorities and don’t offer games that cross jurisdictional boundaries, although two major games—Powerball and Mega Millions—have a national presence, acting as de facto national lottery games. And while the money raised isn’t tax revenue, it helps support state programs.

The history of the official lottery can be traced back to a time of fiscal crisis in early America, when public works projects strained state budgets. Cohen argues that, whatever its moral bent, early America was “defined politically by an aversion to taxation,” which made the lottery an attractive alternative to other means of raising cash. In addition to the money earmarked for prizes, many states apply some of the proceeds to other purposes, including housing assistance and public education.

The official lottery has also been a target of criminals, who use it as an avenue for illicit financial transactions. Often, scammers will contact lottery winners and ask them to send wire transfers or transfers using Zelle or cryptocurrency or gift cards to other victims. These are known as money mule schemes, and they are one of the most common forms of cyber-fraud. In some cases, scammers may invent organizations such as the National Sweepstakes Bureau or claim to represent a government agency, such as the FTC or FBI. These types of requests should raise suspicions and should be reported to your local law enforcement agencies.