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During the first era of state-run lotteries, states used the games as a way to raise revenue without raising taxes, Cohen writes. But “shady practices” eventually tarnished the reputation of the games, and in 1890 Congress banned interstate advertising of them. Nevertheless, in almost every US state, there are now at least one lottery—and many have jackpots that seem to grow by the hour.

But a growing body of research suggests that these super-sized jackpots can be as much a deterrent to lottery participation as any other factor, because they make people think the odds are even worse than they really are. Moreover, the way that jackpot prizes are structured tends to make them “regressive,” meaning that lower-income Americans end up spending far more of their budgets on instant scratch-off games than do upper-income people.

And because the vast majority of the money that goes to winners is paid for by the people who buy tickets—in addition to the aforementioned jackpots, most states also offer a smaller prize pool based on a fixed percentage of ticket sales, and some states have games similar to keno and video lottery terminals—the game has come to be seen as a form of commercialized gambling that preys on low-income people.