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Lottery games have been around for centuries, but they’ve always had their critics, who questioned whether it’s appropriate for the government to profit from gambling or whether state lotteries really are a good way to fund essential services. These skeptics have come from all walks of life, including devout Protestants, who viewed lottery playing as morally wrong and feared that government-sponsored lotteries would be corrupted.
But, in the 1800s, that tide began to turn against gambling of all kinds as religious and moral sensibilities—along with a growing sense of corruption—started to tamp down enthusiasm for lotteries, Matheson says. “It was partially a religious thing, but it was also a little bit of public policy and public welfare protection to get rid of lotteries that were corrupt,” he adds.
Today, lottery critics say that lotteries are regressive, because they target lower income communities—which research shows tend to be comprised disproportionately of Black and Latino people—and lead them to believe they’re a quick way to build wealth. And, because winners can choose to remain anonymous, critics argue that lottery winnings can be used for illegal activities and create friction between the police and residents, particularly in impoverished urban neighborhoods. And, in addition to the moral and ethical concerns, some states have found that their lottery revenues haven’t boosted services as much as they’ve promised.