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The early American lottery grew out of exigency. Colonial America was short of money and long on need for public works, from roads to canals to churches. Harvard and Yale were financed in part by lotteries, and the Continental Congress used one to help fund the Revolutionary War.

But the lottery didn’t really become the government’s silver bullet until after World War II. That’s when states figured out that they could build up their array of social safety net services without imposing onerous taxes on the middle class and working classes, as long as they ran a lottery.

Lotteries soared. They also fueled what Freund and Morris called “income inequality.” Between 1976 and 1995, when state lotteries were at their peak, the distribution of real income among states was more unequal than in any 30-year period since 1830.

Lottery proponents responded with new strategies, rebranding the lottery as the government’s silver bullet for education and other favored causes. Their campaigns, however, wildly inflated the impact of lottery revenues on state budgets. Today, a lottery’s revenue covers, on average, about one per cent of total state spending. And like all state revenues, it is regressive, taking a greater toll on those who can least afford it.