Three Things You Need to Know About the Official Lottery

The official lottery is a government-run gambling game that raises funds for public services, usually education. Each state regulates its own lottery, and its laws identify the official purpose of the lottery and dictate the way in which proceeds are distributed, along with time limits for claiming prizes. States also have laws that regulate how the lottery is conducted, including what games may be played and what types of prizes are offered.

In colonial America, lotteries were a common form of raising money for private and public projects. They funded churches, libraries, canals, bridges, roads, and ferries. In fact, lottery funds were used to establish the colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts Bay. By the 1670s, though, the Puritans viewed gambling as a sinful and dishonorable practice.

State lotteries are now a thriving enterprise, with Americans spending more than $100 billion each year on tickets. But the history of these games is a long and sometimes rocky one. Here are three things you need to know about the lottery’s tumultuous American journey.

Lottery history

The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with towns holding lottery games to raise money for town fortifications and help the poor. The lottery’s popularity grew, but it met with serious opposition from religious and moral critics. By the 1800s, it had become “a popular, if not always legal, way for state governments to fund public services,” writes Cohen.

In 1967, New Yorkers approved a constitutional amendment to establish a government-run lottery and promise that all proceeds would be “applied exclusively for the support or aid of education.” Today, New York lottery proceeds have raised billions for education.