History of the Lottery


Throughout history, lotteries have been a way to raise money for various public purposes. From the Roman emperors to American colonists, they used lotteries to finance roads, schools, fortifications, and libraries. In the United States, lotteries are commonly run by the state or city government.

The earliest known lotteries were organized by the Roman emperor Augustus. These lotteries, like many modern lotteries, offered tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money. Ticket holders were assured that they would win something. During Saturnalian revels, wealthy noblemen distributed tickets. The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun “lot” which means fate or luck.

The Roman Empire held numerous lotteries, most of which were for amusement. They were primarily held at dinner parties. The Chinese Book of Songs mentions a game of chance as the “drawing of wood.” It is believed that the Han Dynasty of China used lottery slips to finance major government projects.

The earliest modern European lotteries were held in Flanders, France, and Modena, Italy. Records from the 15th century indicate that towns in the Low Countries held public lotteries to raise money for fortifications and the poor. In addition to raising money for these purposes, the lotteries also helped with the construction of bridges and canals.

Eventually, French king Francis I decided to organize a lottery in his kingdom. The first lottery was called Loterie Royale. The lottery was authorized by an edict of Chateaurenard and the tickets were expensive. In the end, the lottery was a fiasco. The prize money was worth only one-third of the total, and a number of winners received articles of unequal value.

Although the Roman emperors reportedly used lotteries to give away property and slaves, their use of lotteries was largely ignored by historians. By the 17th century, however, several colonies in the United States were holding public lotteries to raise funds for fortifications, local militias, and colleges. During the recent recession, lottery spending increased in several states.

A large-scale lottery involves the use of computers. The numbers are randomly generated and the bettors are recorded. The odds are small, so the bettor is likely to experience some magical thinking and superstition. The results are proven using statistical analysis. The total value of the lottery is usually the amount remaining after expenses and taxes are subtracted. The cost of organizing the lottery is also included in the total.

Lotteries are common in most Western, African, and Middle Eastern nations. They are also common in several Asian mainland countries. They are popular in the United States, where 57 percent of Americans purchased a ticket in the past 12 months. The sales of lottery tickets are expected to reach $78 billion in fiscal year 2012.

The oldest lotteries in the United States are the Academy Lottery and the Staatsloterij. The latter was established in 1726. The University of Pennsylvania was financed by the Academy Lottery in 1755.

Other notable lottery events include the Continental Congress’ scheme to raise money for the American Revolution. After thirty years, the project was abandoned. A similar scheme was arranged by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to raise money for an expedition against Canada.