Official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among people, either by chance or through a process that ensures fairness. A modern example is the New York State Lottery, where players pay a price and receive a chance to win a prize that would otherwise be unobtainable. If the player wins, he or she must submit an official ticket as proof of participation in the drawing.

In early America, lotteries were often used to fund both public and private ventures, including churches, libraries, town fortifications, and even some of the first American universities like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. Despite Protestant proscriptions against gambling, the lottery soon became a regular feature of the colonial economy and an important source of revenue.

Nevertheless, critics of the lottery argued that it was both unethical and unwise to fund public services through gambling. In this time of moral exigency, Cohen argues, the lottery proved a popular solution: It enabled states to raise needed funds without raising taxes or cutting services, which would have been unpopular with voters.

In the modern era, lottery revenue is crucial to many state budgets. In fact, it is the third-largest source of government revenue after taxes and personal income. Moreover, the lottery has also become a national phenomenon, whereby state lotteries cooperate to organize games with larger jackpots and broader geographic footprints. Currently, the largest US lotteries are Mega Millions and Powerball, which serve as de facto national lotteries.