The official lottery is a state-controlled game of chance where the proceeds are used to fund government operations such as education and infrastructure. Unlike private gambling games such as casinos or poker, lotteries are legal and subject to state laws regarding fraud and theft.

A state’s decision to introduce a lottery is usually based on the belief that it will raise enormous amounts of money, which will help offset other government expenditures. State officials may also promote the idea that a lottery is fun and will make citizens more aware of their responsibility to pay taxes. The official lottery is also a way for states to avoid raising tax rates or cutting services, which can be unpopular with voters.

When the New York state lottery was launched in 1967, its first slogan was “Your Chance of a Lifetime to Help Education.” Since then it has raised billions for education and other public purposes. But the real problem, as Cohen explains, is that state lotteries are really businesses—ones that operate in an environment that is constantly evolving and changing.

The modern lottery began in the nineteen-sixties, he writes, when growing awareness about all the money to be made in gambling collided with a state budget crisis. It was a time of rising inflation, the cost of the Vietnam War, and slowing economic growth. As a result, state governments, which had enjoyed relative prosperity in the immediate postwar period, found themselves facing huge deficits and a shrinking social safety net that they could not easily balance.