Historically, gambling has been a popular form of recreation in North America. George Washington liked to play cards, and Benjamin Franklin printed and sold playing cards. Americans were so fond of card games that when the British Stamp Act of 1765 put a one-shilling tax on playing cards, people became extremely upset. In fact, anger about the Stamp Act and a tax on tea contributed to support for the American Revolution. During the colonial period, lotteries (a system of raising money by selling numbered tickets and distributing prizes to the holders of numbers drawn at random) were used to raise money to establish the colony of Virginia. In 1777 the Continental Congress held a $5 million lottery to pay for the Revolutionary War.
By the 1800s Americans were known for their gambling. Visitors to this country said it was impossible to talk to a person from Kentucky without hearing the phrase, "I'll bet you!" Large riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers carrying passengers or freight almost always had a casino where gamblers played cards and other games of chance. Along the Mississippi River was New Orleans, Louisiana, a city famous for gambling. After the Civil War, adventurers went searching for gold and silver in the West, and virtually every mining town had a few gambling casinos.
Beginning in the 1870s, however, most forms of gambling and all lotteries were outlawed by states, following a scandal in the Louisiana lottery. This state lottery had operated nationwide, and the scandal involved bribery of state and federal officials. In 1890 Congress outlawed the use of the mail for lotteries, and in 1895 it forbade shipments of lottery tickets across state lines.
Although gambling has always been popular in the United States, many people have opposed it because they believed gambling was immoral and posed a threat to both individuals and the community. Some people that became addicted to gambling lost their homes, families, and careers. Furthermore, during the Prohibition Era (1920–33), when alcohol was outlawed, organized crime moved into the profitable worlds of alcoholic beverages and gambling. Although legal gambling has since regained respectability and is viewed by many Americans as an acceptable activity, the association with organized crime and corruption still taints the activity in the minds of others.
Lotteries began a revival in 1964 when New Hampshire created a state lottery. New York followed suit in 1966. From 1970 to 1975 ten more states established them. In 2004 thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., operated lotteries.