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The state’s reliance on the lottery began in 1964, when New Hampshire approved its first modern-era lottery. Soon, more than thirty states were using the game to fill their budget holes. It was a response to the great fiscal crisis of the nineteen-sixties, when states were finding it difficult to maintain their social safety nets without hiking taxes, which would enrage voters.
Cohen argues that this is where the lottery’s “budgetary miracle” aspect emerged. It gave legislators a way to raise money “without having to confront the uncomfortable issue of raising taxes.”
In his book, Cohen also explores why people play the lottery. He says that many people are drawn to the game for its promise of easy wealth. For poorer Americans, especially Blacks and Latinos, who often face discrimination in the traditional economy, winning a lottery prize is seen as a pathway out of poverty.
The authors of the book contend that the government should not be in the business of promoting addiction, but that argument is hard to support in a nation where cigarette and video-game ads hawk the same message. Nor is it clear that the lottery is unique in exploiting the psychology of addiction; ad agencies for everything from Snickers bars to car dealerships are just as adept at persuading consumers to keep buying.