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While most states make winning numbers public, five keep winners’ names private. Why is that?

It’s the same reason that Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man in Charleston, won a lottery ticket and used it to pay for his freedom. This is the kind of moral distaste that arose in the 1800s and helped bring an end to state lotteries, Matheson says. Concerns about corruption and shady practices also worked against them.

In the nineteen-sixties, a growing awareness of how much money could be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. Faced with a rising population and the cost of social welfare programs, many states found themselves unable to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. This was unpopular with voters.

The state lotteries that resulted grew wildly successful, but they were also profoundly misleading, the authors argue. Their campaign slogans wildly inflated the impact of lottery revenue on state finances, claiming it would pay for everything from schools to police forces. In fact, these lotteries have tended to transfer wealth from poor communities to wealthy ones—and they do so by selling instant scratch-off games that are far more popular with low-income Americans than jackpot drawings like Powerball. By promoting these games as an easy way to become rich, the lotteries are causing poor communities to sink into debt.