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Lotteries rely on a combination of psychological techniques, like glitzy advertising campaigns and the appearance of large jackpots, to keep people coming back. That is not unique to the lottery industry; tobacco companies and video-game makers use similar strategies to lure consumers in. But it is unusual to see the government in the business of promoting vice, which is what state governments do by promoting the lottery.
Cohen explains that early America was “defined politically by an aversion to taxation.” That made lotteries an appealing alternative. They raised money for everything from military conscription to public works projects. They were also popular among the founding fathers, with Benjamin Franklin running a lottery to help raise money for a militia in Philadelphia and John Hancock using one to help rebuild Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Lotteries became particularly popular for states struggling to maintain services without raising taxes and enraging their increasingly anti-tax electorate. As a result, they were viewed as budgetary miracles, the way for politicians to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air.