Win Big With the Official Lottery


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In the early days of the state lotteries, Cohen writes, “they were viewed as budgetary miracles, an opportunity for states to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, thereby releasing them from having to contemplate raising taxes.” This was especially true in America’s Northeast and Rust Belt, which had been defined politically by an aversion to taxation. Lotteries, they believed, would allow them to expand their services without burdening the middle class and working classes too much.

Moreover, these states argued, they could avoid public anger at higher taxes by arguing that they were simply raising money for a good cause. They used the proceeds to build roads, canals and ferries, construct colleges and universities, and support agriculture. In short, they helped create an American social safety net, despite the fact that, as Cohen points out, a great deal of it was provided by illegal gambling.

The first modern government-run state lottery was established in Puerto Rico in 1934, followed by New Hampshire in 1964. Instant tickets, also known as scratch-offs, were introduced in the 1970s and now make up a large portion of lottery revenue. Between 1964 and 2019, US lotteries raised a total of $502 billion, which sounds like a lot, but is actually only a drop in the bucket of state government revenues.