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The lottery’s real history began in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness about how much money could be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. As the cost of war, inflation, and other factors began to weigh heavily on states that had forged generous social safety nets, they looked for ways to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. That’s when the lottery became popular.

Lottery commissions have a lot of power to shape the message that plays out to players and voters. They have every incentive to tell people how great the lottery is, even though its impact on overall state revenue is small. They also have every incentive to hide how regressive it is, and to make it appear as if people play the lottery because they feel a civic obligation to do so or that it’s just a fun way to pass the time.

The lottery has a unique ability to create myths about how it benefits the state, and Cohen’s book is full of examples of its deceptive marketing. One such myth, which is still widely believed today, is that people win big jackpots because they’re “lucky.” In reality, the chances of winning are extremely slim and only increase if you buy more tickets. The truth is, the only people who are lucky in the lottery are those who have spent the most money.