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Lotteries are popular gambling games that have grown into an enormous industry in the United States, generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. They are a key source of state revenue, providing funds for a range of social services. However, they also expose players to the dangers of addiction and have the potential to increase income inequality. The question for lawmakers is whether they should be in the business of promoting gambling, especially when other forms of betting are available.

State-sanctioned lotteries have a long history in the United States, where they were once considered essential to the public good, helping finance everything from the building of the British Museum to the repair of bridges and even the American colonies’ first public libraries. They are still widely used in many countries, but have faced persistent criticism from opponents, who questioned both the ethics of funding state services through gambling and the amount of money that governments actually stood to gain from them. Moreover, critics complained that lottery revenue did not reliably increase with economic fluctuations, and that people could easily shift their spending habits to other types of gambling, such as betting on horse races or playing bingo.

In contrast, supporters argue that state lotteries are a necessary part of government because they generate large sums for relatively little cost and that these sums are important for the social services they provide. Some studies have found that lottery sales do rise when economic conditions are poor, but other research has shown that this is because people tend to make riskier spending decisions in tough times.