The official lottery is a government-sponsored gambling game. Modern lotteries take place in many countries, including the United States. They are a popular way to raise money for public services, such as education and local infrastructure. However, critics argue that lotteries are a form of social injustice. They hurt poor people by diverting money that could have gone to schools, police departments, or other services. They also create inequities by “disproportionately benefiting college students and wealthier school districts far from the neighborhoods where lottery tickets are sold,” according to a study by the Howard Center for Reform.

Until the nineteenth century, states relied on lotteries to finance everything from bridges and parks to town fortifications and even to build the British Museum. But the popularity of these lotteries, writes Cohen, was always linked to exigency; early America was short on revenue and averse to taxes, so legislators figured that a state lottery would bring in millions without enraging voters.

In addition, lotteries were easy to run; they simply consisted of a box in which people placed names and numbers. In the eighteenth century, however, scandals and moral concerns eroded public support for these games, and by the nineteenth century, most states had banned them. The one exception was the Louisiana Lottery Company, which raked in enormous profits for its private promoters and was riddled with corruption.

In 1964, New Hampshire, famously tax averse, became the first state to pass a law allowing for a state-run lottery. It has raised billions for educational purposes.