The History of the Lottery


The practice of dividing property by lot dates back to the ancient times. In the Old Testament, Moses instructs the Israelites to take a census and divide the land among the people by lot. Roman emperors also used lotteries to distribute property and slaves. Apophoreta, or the drawing of the lottery numbers, was an enjoyable dinner entertainment in ancient Rome. The winning number in the lottery drawing is 7 and it is as likely to come up as any other number.

Lotteries are often government-sponsored games that involve matching a set of numbers or symbols. While lotteries have been around for centuries, they first became popular in the sixteenth century, when they helped finance wars, canals, and roads. The popularity of the lottery has steadily risen since then. Today, more than two billion people across the world play lotteries. It is estimated that lottery games generate between 40 percent and 50% of total lottery sales in some countries.

Once established, lotteries have wide public support and have even developed specialized constituencies in many states. In New Hampshire, for example, 60% of adults report playing the lottery at least once a year. The lottery has also become popular among convenience store owners and school districts, which make heavy political contributions from the lottery proceeds. State legislators have become accustomed to the extra revenue generated by lotteries, as well as teachers and other public sector employees.

The first recorded lotteries used money prizes to attract people to the town. French and Italian towns began holding public lotteries during the 15th century to raise money for defenses and for poor people. Francis I of France authorized lotteries in several cities between 1520 and 1539, including the city of L’Ecluse. In the same year, a lottery in Bruges, Belgium, was held with a prize of four hundred and thirty florins. In today’s money, this amount would be worth roughly $170,000.

The history of lotteries in the United States reaches as far back as 1612. The first lottery in America was held in 1612 to fund the Virginia Company, and was the first government lottery. In the colonial era, lotteries were often used to fund public works projects, including building wharves and churches. In the 18th century, George Washington sponsored a lottery in 1768 for the construction of a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Although the lottery has been popular among lower-income residents for decades, recent studies have shown that most of the money that is spent on lottery tickets comes from a small number of players. Most business schools teach that 80 percent of sales are made by the top 20% of customers. Similarly, in the lottery business, the same principle holds true. While 80% of sales are generated by the top 20% of customers, only twenty percent of players make up the rest of the revenue.