The official lottery was once a common way for states to raise money for everything from schools to bridges and even civil defense. But despite their ubiquity, state lotteries are not without controversy. Some critics question the ethics of government-sanctioned gambling, while others worry that states may not be getting the best bang for their buck. Those who argue against the practice of lotteries also often point out that, if it is not done properly, it can also lead to problems like addiction and criminal activity.
In his book, Cohen looks at the origins of lotteries and their modern incarnation in America. He argues that the rise of the modern lottery coincided with a crisis in state funding. In the nineteen-sixties, with populations swelling and inflation rising, it became increasingly difficult for states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. This prompted some of them to turn to the lottery to raise needed cash.
The New York lottery is a good example of this phenomenon. It was first launched in 1967, and its proceeds have since funded education across the state. In the past thirty years, it has raised billions of dollars. But its popularity hasn’t been without controversy: In the 1970s, officials used lottery funds to fund a political campaign. The scandal eventually forced the lottery to close. In the decades since, however, states have started to offer a wider array of games, from instant tickets to video lottery terminals.