Download this app to play official state lottery games on your phone! (Please note: Don’t play while crossing streets, operating motor vehicles or chain saws.)
A few thousand years ago, it was customary in the Low Countries for towns to hold lotteries to build town fortifications or provide charity for the poor. By the fourteen-hundreds, these lotteries were spreading across Europe. It seemed like a good idea at the time: People are going to gamble anyway, and states need money, so why not capture some of that inevitable gambling with a ticket that might give them a chance at winning a prize?
But a problem was developing. The early lotteries, like other state-run gambling operations, were subject to a variety of moral and religious objections, including a sense that they promoted sin. By the 1800s, such objections had begun to turn into a wave of anti-lottery protests, culminating in a prohibition in 1860 that, today, is only partially in place in New York.
In the late-twentieth century, as the nation’s economy stalled and the war in Vietnam escalated, more and more states began to cast around for ways to expand their array of services without ratcheting up taxes on working people and the middle class. Lottery advocates hoped that such a solution, which they depicted as a “tax on the stupid,” would be especially appealing to voters who opposed higher taxes.
As soon as one state adopted a lottery, the other states that bordered it generally followed suit, and the national trend accelerated when state governments teamed up to create multi-state games like Powerball and Mega Millions in the 1980s. In Canada, where provincial and territorial governments run the four nationwide lotteries, these partnerships have led to higher jackpots and wider player appeal.