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In the nineteen-sixties, the booming economy that had allowed America’s states to expand their social safety nets without raising taxes collapsed. Inflation, the cost of the Vietnam War, and other factors made state budgets unsustainable, forcing politicians to either cut services or hike taxes. But instituting tax hikes would be very unpopular with voters. To avoid a budget crisis, legislators decided to try something completely out of the ordinary: lotteries.

Lottery defenders argued that introducing these commercial gambling games could make public services affordable again without the unpopularity of higher taxes. They promoted the lottery as a “budgetary miracle,” claiming that it would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars and free states from ever having to raise taxes again. This was a complete lie. The vast majority of lottery profits went to the prize fund, and the rest to advertising and administrative costs.

But Cohen, a careful collector of facts, puts his thumb on the scale and determines that, despite their wildly inflated claims and the fact that they discourage normal taxation, state lotteries are bad for society. Considering their regressive nature, the way they encourage gambling addictions, and their relatively modest financial contributions, Cohen concludes that these programs should not exist in the modern United States.