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When lotteries first became popular, their advocates claimed that they would fill state coffers without raising state taxes and keep money in the pockets of average citizens. But as the decades went by and it became clear that lottery proceeds were a drop in the bucket for actual state government (on average, only one to two percent), these proponents began retooling their argument. Instead of claiming that lottery proceeds would float the entire business of a state, they began arguing that it would cover a single line item-almost always education, but sometimes other public services, such as elder care or aid for veterans. This narrower pitch made it easy for politicians to sell the idea to voters, who figured that a vote for a lottery meant a vote for education.

Early America, Cohen writes, was a place “defined politically by an aversion to taxation,” and lotteries were a popular way for people to raise money to fund things like road construction and churches. But many opponents questioned both the morality of funding public services through gambling and how much states stood to gain from it.