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In the beginning, Cohen writes, lotteries sprang up in Europe as a way to raise funds for town fortifications, charity, and other public works. The same logic applied in America. By the nineteen-sixties, with a growing population and inflation eating into state budgets, the ability to maintain services without raising taxes or cutting services was becoming increasingly difficult for many states, especially those that provided generous social safety nets.

Advocates of the lottery argued that its proceeds would fill state coffers and relieve politicians from the unpopular decision to increase taxes or cut services. The truth, as the first legalized lotteries quickly demonstrated, was different. In New Jersey, for example, lottery proceeds in the first year covered just two per cent of the state’s budget.

Moreover, the fraud and corruption associated with lotteries contributed to an antipathy toward gambling as a whole in America by the 1800s. That antipathy stemmed not only from religious and moral sensibilities, but also from a political desire to curb the influence of crooked businessmen.