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The first lotteries in the United States were run to finance ships to the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1612, despite Puritans who viewed gambling as “a door and a window to worse sins.” But after that, they became increasingly common, with John Hancock running one to help build Boston’s Faneuil Hall and George Washington running one to fund a road across a mountain pass.

In the 1800s, though, a combination of religious and moral sensibilities and corrupt practice started to turn the tide against lotteries, Matheson says. It was part of a general movement against gambling, and it may have been partially motivated by the fact that lotteries weren’t doing much good for people.

But after World War II, states began to look for ways to provide services without imposing particularly onerous taxes on the working class. In the 1960s, they started to introduce state lotteries to raise money for things like education and public works. In theory, at least, the states were getting a decent return on investment. But in reality, the percentage of total state revenue that comes from lotteries is a tiny drop in the bucket.