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During the early years of the United States, many colonies used lotteries to raise funds for wars, bridges, roads, canals, and libraries. Although the majority of these lotteries were unsuccessful, the use of lotteries was tolerated in some cases.

Lotteries began to be used more widely in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In addition to financing public works projects, these lotteries were popular in the Netherlands, where they collected funds for the poor. In the United States, lotteries have also been used to raise funds for colleges and libraries.

During the colonial era, 200 lotteries were operated. Most were unsuccessful, according to a 1999 report from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Some of the lotteries were funded by the Virginia Company of London, which helped settle the continent at Jamestown.

In 1755, the Academy Lottery helped finance the University of Pennsylvania. In 1758, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts used a lottery to raise money for an expedition against Canada. In the 1760s, George Washington conducted a lottery to finance Mountain Road in Virginia. In 1776, the American Revolution was in full swing. Lotteries were used to raise money for the Colonial Army and cannons.

In the early twentieth century, negative attitudes about gambling began to soften. After Prohibition, people began to gamble less frequently. In addition to raising funds for public works, lotteries became popular as a tax alternative.

In the United States, lotteries are operated by state governments. Most states operate several different games. Some states allow commercial lottery companies to compete. Others have limited the number of lottery retailers.