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Lottery supporters, mostly in Northeastern states with more robust social safety nets, hailed it as an opportunity for governments to finance essential services without raising taxes. In a time when voters had revolted against sales and income taxes, and when government deficits were growing, that seemed an appealing prospect.
But critics on both sides of the political spectrum and from all walks of life questioned both the ethics of funding public services with gambling and how much money state lotteries would actually bring in. Some religious leaders, for example, deemed the idea morally unconscionable. Others, mainly African American voters, were concerned that legalizing lottery games would fuel a gambling addiction and give police another reason to harass and arrest them.
The result was a series of high-profile campaigns that wildly overstated how much lottery proceeds would benefit state governments. The reality is that the amounts raised are a drop in the bucket. In California, for instance, the first year of the lottery, lottery revenue covered only about five per cent of the school budget.