Official lottery is a form of gambling where people buy chances, called tickets, and win prizes. Lotteries are organized by governments, or by companies such as the Powerball and Mega Millions.

The basic elements of a lottery include a means of recording the identity and stakes of each bettor, a mechanism for pooling all money paid by bettors, and a system of drawing a random selection from a pool of numbers. These elements are arranged to ensure that the potential bettors have a chance of winning, but that the odds of winning are small enough to make the game economically viable.

Despite their common origins, lotteries vary widely in design and rules. In the United States, for example, most state lotteries consist of three-digit games similar to numbers games; some also offer four-digit games with a jackpot. Others, such as the New York lottery, feature instant ticket games that can be played by phone or computer.

Proponents of the official lottery often point to its economic benefits. They argue that it provides a way for states to raise revenue without raising taxes, and that it can be used to fund schools and other public services.

But opponents of the lottery point out that it is a tax on the poor. And that its growth has coincided with an erosion of financial security and job stability for many Americans.

The initial wave of anti-lottery protests swept through the country in the 1830s. By 1833, every state had prohibited the practice except Delaware and Missouri. But the Louisiana State Lottery Company, one of the most infamous of American lottery operators, continued to thrive, shipping lottery tickets across the country and bribing state legislators with massive bribes.