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The official lottery, or state-run gambling operation, became widely used in the United States after the Civil War and is now offered in 45 states and the District of Columbia. State lotteries are regulated by the laws of their jurisdictions and operate independently from one another. Some states also join together to offer multi-state games with larger jackpots. Currently, New York is part of two multi-state games: Powerball and Mega Millions.
In the nineteenth century, lotteries were condemned by moralists and by people concerned about their influence on the poor. They were also criticized for encouraging gamblers to spend more money than they could afford. Nonetheless, they continued to spread across the country, and a booming industry emerged from illegal lotteries.
Advocates of the lottery argued that since gamblers were going to play anyway, government should collect the profits. The argument seemed plausible to many people, Cohen writes. It allowed them to dismiss long-held ethical objections. It also gave a new legitimacy to states that otherwise would have been reluctant to enter the gambling business.
Yet despite the popularity of the state-run lottery, there are many questions about its impact on society. The main one is whether governments should be in the business of promoting vice, as the lotteries do. A second concern is that the profits from the games are not enough to sustain the services on which people depend. And the people who play the lottery are not evenly distributed: It takes a disproportionate toll on poor and working-class citizens.