The official lottery is a game where numbers are drawn to win a prize. Most lotteries offer multiple games including three-digit and four-digit number games; scratch-off tickets; keno; and video lottery terminals. Many states also support public education systems with lottery revenue.

During the nineteen-sixties, Cohen writes, increasing awareness of all the money to be made in lottery gambling collided with a crisis in state finances. As the nation entered a period of slow economic growth, population growth, rising inflation, and war expenses, state governments had to find a way to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting public services, which would be politically toxic. In this environment, lotteries seemed to be the perfect solution.

Lottery officials began promoting the idea that a lottery could fund, in their view, the most important line item in the state budget—usually education but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid for veterans. This narrower argument made it easier to sell the idea to voters, who didn’t have to believe that they were supporting gambling but were merely voting for a certain type of government service.

Once one state legalized a lottery, it was common for neighboring states to follow suit, so that in a matter of years you could buy tickets in ten or fifteen different locations. As lottery revenue rose, it became possible to create multi-state lotteries with large jackpots. This was not a bad thing, but it did alter the way winners celebrated their wealth, and increased the number of people who were targeted by financial advisors and solicitors.