The official lottery is a government-sponsored game of chance in which people purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes such as money or goods. It differs from other gambling in that payment of a consideration (money or work) must be made for the opportunity to participate. This is in contrast to a raffle, where the prize is granted free of charge or with other considerations, such as membership in a club or free merchandise.

Lotteries are popular in many states, although some have banned them for moral religious reasons or because of various scandals and concerns about the regressive nature of the games. Even those states that do allow the games usually impose strict age and other restrictions to deter minors from buying tickets. In addition, they often limit the number of entries per person and prohibit sales at places that sell liquor or cigarettes.

State governments use the profits to support public services, such as education and infrastructure. In New York, for example, lottery proceeds have helped build City Hall and other government buildings, as well as canals, ferries and roads.

But while the profits may sound large, they end up being a drop in the bucket overall for actual state government budgets. According to a study by the progressive think tank the Howard Center, in the 24 years since it first examined the issue, lotteries have raised $502 billion, yet they only account for 1 to 2 percent of total state revenue.