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State-sanctioned lotteries began in the fifteenth century, when people started to hold public raffles with prizes of cash and goods. They were intended to raise funds for local purposes, and were often held at dinner parties as a form of entertainment.

By the mid-twentieth century, states had come to need more money and decided that they could use lotteries as a way to fill coffers without raising taxes or cutting services. Lottery proponents told voters that people were going to gamble anyway, so the state might as well get in on the action and make some money.

But evidence quickly put paid to the notion that lotteries could generate enough revenue to fund a large portion of a state’s business. In New Jersey, where lottery proceeds were first introduced, they brought in thirty-three million dollars in the first year—about two per cent of the state’s budget. Lottery opponents hailed from all corners of society, from the right and left of the political spectrum, and included devout Protestants who regarded the practice as morally unconscionable. They also worried that state-sponsored lotteries would lead to an increase in sin tax and income tax rates, as well as to a proliferation of casino and sports betting operations.