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In the nineteen-sixties, Cohen writes, growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. With the nation’s population expanding rapidly and inflation raging, many states, particularly those that provided generous social safety nets, found themselves unable to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services.
Lottery opponents, who hailed from across the political spectrum and all walks of life, questioned the ethics of a government-sanctioned gambling enterprise and how much the lottery would really float a state’s coffers. Devout Protestants, in particular, regarded it as morally unconscionable.
In the end, Cohen writes, legalization advocates shifted tactics. Instead of arguing that a lottery would float most of a state’s budget, they began to emphasize a single line item — invariably education, but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid for veterans — for which the lottery could provide a convenient and nonpartisan solution. This approach proved effective. It also insulated the lottery from more fundamental objections that it was an unnecessary, if not irresponsible, transfer of wealth to the rich.