An official lottery is a gambling game run by state or provincial governments or by private companies licensed to sell the games. Its main purpose is to raise funds for public benefit. The lottery has become a part of American life and culture, with Americans spending an estimated $100 billion a year on tickets. But the lottery’s history as both a public and private game has been a long and often rocky one.

The basic elements of a lottery include some means to record the identities of the bettors, the amounts staked by each and the number or symbols chosen as stakes. These may be written on a ticket or otherwise recorded by the lottery organization. In many cases, these are then shuffled into a pool for the drawing, which determines the winners. In some cases, the winnings are paid out as cash prizes, in others they are prize goods or services.

A state-run lottery is common in nearly all African and Middle Eastern states, all European countries and Latin America, Australia, Japan and several countries on the Asian mainland. There are also several large-scale privately organized lotteries in most of the United States and Canada. Communist countries tried for a few decades to reject public lotteries as decadent and anti-Marxist, but only briefly.

There are also multi-state lotteries, where a number of states join to offer larger jackpots and other benefits. A notable example is the Multi-State Lottery Association, which is best known for Powerball.