The History of the Lottery


Lotteries have a long history, tracing their roots to the ancient world. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the practice of drawing lots to determine rights and ownership of property became common across Europe. In 1612, King James I (1566-1625) of England created a lottery to provide funds to Jamestown, Virginia. In the following centuries, lottery funding was used by private and public organizations to fund town projects, wars, colleges, and public works projects.

Lotteries are a form of entertainment that have many uses, from military conscription to commercial promotions. They can also be used to give away property through a random process, or to select jury members from a pool of registered voters. But in order to make any type of lottery work, it must first be legal in the country where it will be played.

Lottery players typically play once or several times per week. More than 13 percent play daily. The rest play once to three times a month, or less frequently. In South Carolina, the most frequent lottery players are high-school educated, middle-aged men from a middle-class background. A large percentage of these players play the lottery for cash prizes.

The first recorded lottery in Europe dates back to the fifteenth century in the Low Countries. In those days, various towns held public lotteries to raise money for poor people and public projects. These early lotteries were popular and were hailed as painless taxation. Although some believe that the first lotteries were held in ancient Greece, it is possible that they were held much earlier. The oldest continuously operating lottery, the Staatsloterij in Ghent, dates back to 1445. A record in L’Ecluse mentions a lottery of 4304 tickets, worth 1737 florins. This amount is the equivalent to US$170,000 in 2014.

The popularity of the lottery has spread throughout the world. It is widespread in Africa, the Middle East, most European countries, the District of Columbia, and several Asian countries. There are currently eight states that do not have a state lottery. Only Utah and Hawaii ban gambling, and Alaska has very little interest in regulating the lottery. However, several state lottery bills have been introduced in state legislatures throughout the past two decades.

A lottery has several rules, and the most basic game is Lotto. In a Lotto game, bettors choose six numbers from a set of balls numbered from one to fifty. A winning ticket is called a “winning ticket” and is split among the winners. Alternatively, the winning ticket may be a “rollover” and transferred to a subsequent drawing, increasing the jackpot prize.

The lottery generates huge amounts of revenue for the states. In FY 2006, state lotteries generated $17.1 billion in lottery profits. These funds are allocated to various causes. In the United States alone, approximately $234.1 billion has been allocated to various recipients since 1967. New York has the highest amount of lottery profits allocated to education, followed by California and New Jersey.