Official lottery is a government-sponsored game that offers prizes (typically cash) based on the drawing of numbers. The prize pool can vary from a fixed amount of money to a percentage of ticket sales. Some lotteries are based on a single draw, with a single winner; others have several draws with different winners each week. Normally, the costs of organizing and promoting the lottery, and profits and revenues for the state or sponsor, must be deducted from the pool before the remaining prizes can be awarded to winners.
Lottery games have long been popular and lucrative, providing a painless form of taxation that is not widely resented by the public. However, they have also been controversial for their dependence on a relatively small group of players to generate significant revenue. As Les Bernal, a former anti-state-sponsored gambling advocate at Pew Charitable Trusts has pointed out, it is not uncommon for state lotteries to get 70 or 80 percent of their revenue from 10 percent of their users.
The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century, raising funds to build town fortifications and to help the poor. During the French and Indian Wars, lotteries were a common funding tool for private ventures as well as public projects, including roads, canals, churches, and colleges. Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to raise money for the creation of the Philadelphia militia in 1748 and George Washington ran one to fund a road over a mountain pass in Virginia in 1767.