The History of the Lottery


Whether it’s to fill a vacancy in a school or to win a jackpot, the lottery is a good way to get lucky. It’s a low-risk, low-odds game that has been around for centuries.

During the Roman Empire, emperors reportedly used lotteries to provide slaves and to give away property. These games of chance were quite popular.

In the United States, the first modern government-run US lottery was established in 1934 in Puerto Rico. Today, lottery games are held in most states and cities. The prize money can be distributed over a number of years, or can be deposited into a winner’s account.

The Chinese Book of Songs lists the game of chance as “drawing of wood and lot.” In the 17th century, Roman emperors reportedly used lotteries as a way to finance major projects. Several colonies also used lotteries during the French and Indian Wars.

In the United States, several colonists brought lotteries with them. Some states banned them between 1844 and 1859. Others tolerated them for two centuries.

The first known European lottery was distributed by wealthy noblemen during Saturnalian revels. Ticket holders were promised a prize, usually a fancy dinnerware item. The record dated 9 May 1445 at L’Ecluse mentions a lottery of 4304 tickets.

Despite its popularity, lotteries were eventually outlawed in France. Several states financed colleges and libraries with lotteries in the 1740s. In 1755, the Academy Lottery financed the University of Pennsylvania.

The first known French lottery, Loterie Royale, was authorized by an edict of Chateaurenard. It was a fiasco.