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In the 1800s, a few high-profile campaigns against gambling—including one by Denmark Vesey, an enslaved man who used his winnings to buy his freedom—turned public sentiment against lottery games. Religious and moral sensibilities, as well as concerns about corruption, also played a role. Lottery officials sometimes sold tickets and then absconded with the proceeds, Matheson says.
Eventually, states began casting around for ways to raise money that wouldn’t rile an increasingly anti-tax electorate. A handful of states legalized the lottery, and it quickly spread across the country. The first multi-state lottery came into being in the mid-1980s, and it was soon followed by a host of smaller state lotteries that banded together to increase prize sizes and attract more players.
But some observers worry that the expansion of the lottery will lead to an increased reliance on state government in an era of strained budgets. And there are concerns about the impact of legalized gambling on minority communities. A recent study found that state lotteries advertise heavily in neighborhoods disproportionately populated by poor and Black residents. This can make it harder for these people to avoid becoming addicted to the games, and it can also cause them more friction with police officers who often use numbers games as a reason (whether legitimate or not) to arrest and interrogate them.