Comstock, the POD and the Battle Against the Lottery

Conclusion: The Anti-Lottery Laws, 1897 and Beyond

Thanks in large part to the lobbying of Anthony Comstock and the United States Post Office Department nearly all forms of gambling were illegal in the United States by 1910. No legal government-sponsored lottery was allowed to operate within the United States, and anti-gambling sentiment ran so deep that Arizona and New Mexico had to outlaw casinos in order to gain statehood. Despite strong opposition, however, lotteries were still widely played and tickets from foreign lotteries were smuggled into the country.

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Lottery tickets

The work of Comstock was ultimately undone by growing opposition to tax increases. In 1964 New Hampshire became the first state to sponsor a lottery followed by New York a few years later. The greatest growth of state lotteries occurred during the 1980s and by 1993, only two states – Utah and Hawaii – had no form of legalized gambling.1 By the twenty-first century every state had a state-sponsored lottery. The promise of getting something for nothing, as Comstock feared, was ultimately favored by public opinion.

1) Clotfelter and Cook, Selling Hope, 38-40.