Lotteries have been around for centuries, but the modern version of the official lottery really came into its own in the second half of the twentieth century. That’s when state-run lotteries started to lose ground to consortiums that created games with larger geographical footprints and bigger jackpots. Today, those two major games, Powerball and Mega Millions, are the de facto national lotteries, but each country also has its own locally popular versions.

In the beginning, a big part of the appeal of lottery games was their relative regressivity. Lotteries were a way for governments to raise money for social services without imposing especially onerous taxes on the working and middle classes. But as a recent article in the New York Times points out, that arrangement began to splinter after World War II as the nation became increasingly tax averse.

Governments that had relied on the profits of lottery games to provide social services ran out of money as they expanded their programs. In addition, the early era of state-run lotteries in America was brought to a halt by widespread concerns about mismanagement and malfeasance, particularly at the infamous Louisiana State Lottery Company.

Moreover, devout Protestants, who were typically the backbone of the pro-lottery coalition, developed serious moral concerns about gambling. These were not just social-services concerns, but “a concern that gambling was immoral,” writes Cohen. Indeed, Denmark Vesey, an enslaved person who won a local lottery in Charleston, South Carolina, used his winnings to try to buy his freedom in 1800 and was executed for his efforts.