The official lottery is a state-sponsored game that awards prizes in the form of money for numbers drawn in a random drawing. It raises funds for sports, charity, the arts and the National Heritage Memorial Fund among other things. It is a legal gambling activity in the UK and is regulated by the Gambling Commission and operated by Camelot. Although the odds of winning are extremely small, people still feel the urge to play for money. The lottery is often used by states to avoid raising taxes on their citizens and as a way of generating public interest in state projects.

In the early postwar years, Cohen writes, states embraced lotteries as a way to expand their social safety nets without incurring the wrath of their anti-tax voters. Those who were for the idea were generally from the Northeast and Rust Belt states that had been hit hard by the Great Depression, and they saw the lottery as a way to finance new services without increasing taxes.

Once state governments got the hang of running lotteries, they began advertising them as a way to subsidize specific services that were popular and nonpartisan—most often education but also tourism or senior care. This approach worked well, because it insulated lottery advocates from accusations that they were promoting a vice.

But the new strategies had their own problems. The main one was that they wildly inflated the amount of money that a lottery would raise for a state’s budget. The claims proved to be false, and they stoked an already-ferocious tax revolt in the late twentieth century.