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State lotteries are booming, with Americans spending an estimated $100 billion each year on tickets. But it wasn’t always this way. Lotteries, a form of gambling, were often despised for the same reason as the poll tax – they made poor people pay for the sins of the rich.
This was partially a matter of religious and moral sensibilities, but corruption also turned the tide against lotteries in the 1800s. “Lotteries allow a small number of people to buy into the whimsy of chance, and in that sense they’re just as corrupt as a public official stealing from the taxpayer,” says Matheson.
State lotteries are a popular source of revenue, and the vast majority of ticket proceeds goes to winners. The rest covers costs such as advertising and administration. In addition, the prize pool for larger lotteries may be used to fund state-approved public projects. In some cases, a portion of the money is used for law enforcement and education. Regardless of how it is spent, lottery revenues are critical for many government budgets. Some states rely on them for up to half their annual general funds.