Official lottery is a mechanism for awarding prizes (usually money) to winners selected by a random procedure. The term “lottery” is sometimes used in a more general sense to describe any process in which a prize is awarded by chance. This includes other activities such as military conscription and commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random selection process, or the process of selecting jurors from lists of registered voters.

Historically, state lotteries in the United States have been used for many public purposes, such as helping to fund schools. The first modern state lottery was established in Puerto Rico in 1934, followed by New Hampshire in 1964. In the United States, private and public lotteries are legal, but state-run lotteries are the most popular.

In a typical lottery, ticket sales are publicized and prizes awarded by chance, often with the help of volunteers or other professional staff. The proceeds from tickets go into a pool, with a set percentage allocated for expenses, fees and profits to the organizers. The remainder of the pool is available for the winnings.

The earliest known lotteries took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with records from towns such as Ghent, Utrecht and Bruges showing that the practice had become common. Lottery enthusiasts praised it as a painless form of taxation. Critics feared that it was a form of hidden bribery, and they advocated that the lottery should only be used for public purposes.