Lotteries have been around for a long time across cultures. From ancient Greece to the Han dynasty, people played the odds to realize an ambitious dream, while on the other end, states looked to profit. In the United States, the popularity of the lottery came with European colonization, according to historian Jonathan D. Cohen in "For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America." Despite Protestant misgivings, the profits generated from lotteries were used to finance civil defense, the construction of churches, and even the founding of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
While lotteries helped fortify a new country, Americans eventually eschewed their use because of widespread concern over misuse and mismanagement. In 1964, New Hampshire ran the first modern state-run lottery. Now, only five states—Alabama, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada—don't offer lotteries, while the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have lotteries operated by the government.
States use lotteries to raise money for different administrative fees and to fund public services such as education or support for veterans. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lotteries provide about 1% of state revenue annually. And what do the lucky ticket holders do with their share? Stacker compiled a list of the 15 largest lottery jackpots in U.S. history from news reports and lottery press releases, with details on how winners used the funds if available.
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