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Across the nation, state-sanctioned lotteries raise about one percent of states’ total revenue, which doesn’t sound like much but has two significant effects. First, the money from lotteries undermines public support for taxes that would pay for schools, roads and other vital services. Second, the lotteries’ regressive structure takes a big chunk out of lower-income citizens’ incomes. This is not a new problem, either: Historically, lotteries have always been regressive.

In the fourteenth century, the Low Countries ran a lottery to help build town fortifications. The Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and George Washington, often used lotteries as a source of funding—Hancock ran one to build Boston’s Faneuil Hall and Washington used his to construct a road over a mountain pass.

A variety of social, religious and moral concerns slowed the spread of lotteries beginning in the 1800s. Many opponents were devout Protestants who regarded gambling as immoral, and they were joined by others who feared corrupt officials who might siphon off profits.

But as time went by, states increasingly embraced the idea that lotteries could be a great way to supplement their budgets. In the late twentieth century, the tax revolt that had sparked a wave of constitutional amendments to cut property taxes became a tidal wave that swept up state governments as well.