A Short History of the Lottery

A look at how the lottery balls started to roll
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. A Short History Of The Lottery
A Short History of the Lottery
  • Author:
    William Monroe
  • Published:

Although we know that the modern lottery involves draws for cash prizes, the origin of the concept of the lottery goes back a long wayin history. For instance, the first indication of a lottery is from keno slips discovered from the Chinese Han Dynasty that existed between 205 and 187 BC. This lottery helped to finance major government projects like the Great Wall of China.

The first European lotteries

The first known lotteries in Europe were held during the Roman Empire and were done so simply as a form of entertainment at dinner parties. Every guest would receive a ticket, prizes would consist of luxury items such as dinnerware, and every ticket-holder was guaranteed to win a prize. However, the earliest records of a lottery offering tickets for actual sale were for repairs to the infrastructure of the City of Rome.

Interestingly enough, one Roman lottery was not very popular with the military. Soldiers who were found guilty of disobeying orders or of cowardice would be subject to the leadership holding a lottery to randomly select one man out of every ten soldiers as examples for punishment. These unlucky few would then be put to death in terrible and horrific ways. This type of lottery was intended to set an example for the rest of the troops. One soldier’s error put the entire group in jeopardy as any innocent soldier could be selected for death. It fell upon every soldier to monitor every other soldier’s actions, as nobody wanted to become the “lucky” winner in another such draw.

The ancient Greeks in Athens selected most of their government officials by eligible candidates having had their names placed into a lottery. The winners would then be drawn and assigned terms as members of the citizen council or as jurors. This eliminated any chance of favouritism or political interference.

Real money prizes

The first recorded lotteries to actually offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of real money were held in the Netherlands in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor.

It was in Genoa, Italy that the lottery became very popular and set the stage for our modern lotteries. People bet on the names of potential council members who were then drawn by chance every six months. But people wanted to bet more frequently than twice a year, so they began to substitute the candidates’ names with numbers and created the lotteries that we know and love today.

An official lottery

The first recorded official lottery was held in England in 1569. Designed to raise money for government and community improvement, each ticket holder would win a valuable prize. Similar to today with flashy ads and commercials, to promote the lottery, scrolls were posted throughout the country showing sketches of the prizes.

In the United States in 1612, King James I of England created a lottery to provide funds to the first permanent British settlement in North America, Jamestown, Virginia. After that draw, lotteries were used by private and public organizations to raise money for wars and towns.

Therefore, the lotteries that we play today are simply the end result of a series of changes in the reasons why lotteries were created and things like physical and monetary prizes were won. Modern lotteries still provide money and support to governmental and community needs and services.

As you can see, lotteries have been around for a long time and have supported many activities and improved the financial standing of many players. For all that lotteries have changed, they have also stayed the same over time. So thank those in the far past for creating such a unique and interesting way of raising funds and creating rich happy people.

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, and to analyze our traffic. By using our site, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.