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Early America was a land defined politically by its aversion to taxes. Yet it needed money for everything from public works to civil defense to churches. As a result, Cohen writes, it turned to lotteries—in the form of games that dangled the promise of instant wealth and “civic duty”—to raise cash for all manner of needs.

In those days, state lotteries often portrayed themselves as “budgetary miracles,” he says. “Lottery proceeds gave states a way to keep services running without ever raising tax rates and risking voters’ punishment.”

But those campaigns wildly inflated the amount of money that lottery revenue contributed to state coffers. In California, where a high-profile campaign touted lottery revenues as a boon for schools, in the first year of the lottery’s existence, those proceeds accounted for just five per cent of the state’s education budget.

Today, there are 48 states that operate lotteries, but no national lottery. Instead, some states join consortiums that jointly organize games with larger geographic footprints and carry larger jackpots—the Powerball and Mega Millions. The rest of the country relies on a series of “distributional lotteries,” each run by a separate jurisdiction, that serve as de facto national lotteries.