The official lottery is a state-run game of chance that offers jackpots for Powerball and Mega Millions. These games have been a popular way for people to win cash prizes in the United States for over three decades.
The origins of the lottery date to the 15th century in Europe. Towns and cities often held public lotteries to raise money for military defense or to help the poor.
When governments found themselves in budgetary crises that they could not solve with tax increases, they began to turn to the lottery as a way of raising revenue without enraging voters. As the journalist Paul Cohen puts it, lotteries “provided a quick solution to state budgetary problems that had been unable to find a political answer.”
In America, where the problem was particularly acute, lotteries became an integral part of American politics. They financed a number of colleges, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; the Continental Congress even tried to use a lottery to fund the Revolutionary War.
However, in the late nineteenth century the lottery began to attract opposition. A chorus of critics argued that government-sponsored lotteries were morally unsound, that they encouraged gambling and thus facilitated the growth of crime, and that the amount of money they raised was simply too small to make a dent in a state’s budgetary crisis.
In the United States, many of these opponents were African Americans and devout Protestants. Others were concerned about the potential for abuse by gangs and other criminal groups. But a significant part of the support for lottery legalization came from middle-class whites who felt that it would reduce crime.