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Until 1967 buying a lottery ticket in Canada was illegal, and even then it wasn’t very easy. But that year the federal government added a clause to the constitution making the purchase of a lottery ticket legal.

As a result, state-run lotteries became ubiquitous. They now raise a significant share of the money that states use for their general budgets and for specific beneficiaries such as K-12 education. In most cases, these lotteries consist of a combination of scratch-off and number-picking games that feature sizable cash prizes.

Cohen’s narrative begins with the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. The nation’s swelling population and burgeoning costs—including the cost of the Vietnam War—had rendered many governments insolvent, and politicians faced the difficult choice of raising taxes or cutting services. Both options were wildly unpopular with voters.

Lottery proponents touted the concept as a budgetary miracle. After all, they argued, a lottery could swell state coffers with billions of dollars, and the resulting revenue would allow them to maintain existing services without raising taxes. They also claimed that lottery proceeds would cover a significant portion of education budgets—in California, for instance, where the first modern state-run lottery was launched in 1964, the initial revenues covered about five per cent of the school system’s spending.