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Throughout the early days of American state lotteries, critics attacked both the ethics of using public funds for gambling and the amount that states stood to gain from them. Devout Protestants, for instance, viewed government-sanctioned lotteries as morally unconscionable (even though they flocked to bingo games hosted by Catholic high schools, which raised more money than the state lotteries did).

The lottery’s second incarnation began in the nineteen sixties, when growing awareness of all the money in gambling combined with a crisis in state funding. Amid inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War, it became harder for states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services.

Those in favor of the lottery argued that it would raise enough money to get rid of taxes entirely. But, as Cohen explains, that premise was mistaken. Even at its height, the lottery raised only about a third of what state governments actually spent. And that figure has remained relatively steady since.