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This is not to say that people don’t like to gamble, or even that governments shouldn’t be in the business of promoting vice. But when you have a government commission telling people they’re doing the state a favor by buying a ticket, and implying that they shouldn’t be mad at politicians who have to raise taxes to fund their games because it’s really just part of their civic duty, then it gets tricky.
In his article “The State’s Lottery,” Cohen explains that in the nineteen sixties, state budget crises coupled with growing awareness of all the money to be made by the gambling industry combined to create an opportunity. States needed money, and they figured that, since Americans were conditioned by their history of slavery and its legacy of taxation aversion, they could try to raise it with lotteries instead of raising taxes or cutting services—both options would have been unpopular with voters.
Lotteries began in the Low Countries around the 15th century, and by the end of the Revolutionary War, states were using them to finance everything from civil defense to town fortifications. They fell out of favor in the late 1800s, though, as corruption and moral uneasiness combined with the rise of bond sales and standardized taxation to make them seem inappropriate for the honorable business of public funds. By 1890, only Louisiana (which ran a notoriously corrupt game known as The Serpent) continued to offer state-run lotteries, and Congress finally put a stop to it in the early 1900s.