John Lottery's History of the Lottery

Lotteries, in one form or another, have been a common form of fundraising and distribution for since the earliest days. The following presents a brief summary of its history.







In Chapter 26, Book of Numbers, references to Moses described him using a lottery to award land west of the River Jordan by casting lots for reward. Choosing by lot has been a method of making determinations at least as far back a biblical times, with the division of the land west of the Jordan among the tribes of Israel (Numbers 26:55). According to Proverbs 18:18, "The lot puts an end to disputes and decides between powerful contenders."


Lots also appeared in the literature and traditions of Greece, India, China, Japan and Rome.



205-187 BC


The Hun Dynasty in China created Keno.  The lottery money was used for defense and for the construction of Great Wall of China.



100-44 BC


Draw games of different forms date back to Caesar. One of the first recorded mentions Augustus Caesar, who conducted the first known public lottery for a community cause, raising funds for repair work in the city of Rome. Also, it was common for emperors to give their dinner party guest gifts ranging from slaves to lavish villas, all awarded as door-prize drawings.









However, the Encyclopedia Britannica states that the lottery as we now know it, dates back to France of 1400s when towns tried to raise money to fortify defenses.





The French city of L’Ecluse used lottery to raise money to strengthen the town’s fortifications. The prizes were in the form of goods or commodities.





Widow of Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck disposed of his remaining paintings via a raffle.





Belgium holds lotteries to build chapels, almshouses, canals, and port facilities.





Bruges, Belgium, raised money for the poor.





The Portuguese instituted a lottery.









King Francis I of France allowed lotteries to operate. Historians credit him with organizing the first state lottery, which quickly became an important source of raising royal revenue.  The exact date of this varies among sources, ranging from 1505 to 1539.





Florence Italy held the very first number lottery with cash prizes. This was first municipal lottery to offer money as a prize, know as La Lotto de Firenze.


Soon afterwards, similar drawings in Genoa and Venice were held.



By 1567


Queen Elizabeth I established the first English state lottery with prizes of cash and tangible items, and 400,000 tickets were offered for sale. The English caught “lottery fever” and the funds were used  to restore the nations harbors facilities.









King James I of England raised 29,000 pounds for the Virginia Company’s expeditions to colonize America.    Virginia Company of London, the financier of Jamestown in Virginia, was permitted by the Crown to hold lotteries to raise money for the company's colonial venture. Theses lotteries were relatively sophisticated and even included instant winners. Eventually, however, the crown banned the lotteries because of complaints that they were robbing England of money. The company dissolved shortly thereafter.





The Dutch held a lottery to raise money for the poor in New Amsterdam, the predecessor of New York.





British Parliament began using a state lottery to float a 1-million-pound loan. Tickets were 10 pounds each and the prizes awarded were in 16-year cash annuities.









Netherlands formed a lottery which is now considered to be the oldest lottery in operation.





The first lottery in the Colonies began in Massachusetts because of military debts.



You can read a more thorough description of this lottery by visiting: Massachusetts Lottery





Philadelphia Lottery held






A lottery raised money to start the British Museum.





The first case of the Lotto Mania was reported when eager ticket-buyers broke down the doors of English ticket offices on opening day.




Louis XV founded the Loterie Royale of the Military School, and outlawed all other lotteries.  The funds were used to reduce the state's debts. This was the forerunner of the Loterie Nationale.




George Washington sponsored a lottery to build a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.





The crown tried to prevent lotteries from occurring without its permission. Once the War of Independence started, the Continental Congress voted to allow a $10 million lottery to finance the war. The lottery had to be abandoned, however, because it was too large and the tickets could not be sold.





The first “national” lottery was created by the Continental Congress in 1776 to try to raise funds for the American Revolution. While that did not work well, many smaller public lotteries helped build several American universities like Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, and William and Mary.



Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and George Washington were all prominent sponsors of specific lotteries for public works projects. A lottery sponsored by John Hancock financed the rebuilding of Faneuil Hall in Boston after it was damaged by fire. Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.


By one source, there were about half a dozen respectable lotteries operation in each in the 13 colonies prior to the American Revolution. The Continental Congress saw lotteries as a means of financing a Revolutionary Army, helping to make them independent of England. Ironicly, the colonists didn’t view a lottery as "taxation without representation", which was key complaint of the colonies.





It was proceeds from the United States Lottery 1777 that paid for the provisions for Washington’s troops.










By the early 1800s, lotteries were very popular, but abuses by private citizens (side betting and heavy ticket markups) prevented the government from getting the profits, and attempts began to outlaw lotteries


Also during the early 1800's, gambling came under increasing attack. There was always a group opposing gambling on moral grounds and on religious beliefs


The attack against gambling was focused particularly on lotteries because it represented a form of wagering that was offensive to both the moral sensibilities of reformers, and the Jacksonian resentment toward privilege. The exclusive charters granted to lottery operations were examples of this form of privilege. Ironically, President Jackson was an inveterate gambler and had such a history of problems that he must be viewed as a likely addictive or compulsive gambler. His gambling was well-known but tended to be seen as the behavior of a gentleman; hence he was reserved the disapprobation held for commercial gamblers.





The U.S barred postmasters  from selling lottery tickets.





Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts put an end to state authorized lotteries



By 1840


Most states had banned lotteries by this date.





The Act Concerning Lotteries forbade all lotteries in Canada, including the French and Catholic clergy.



By 1860


Only Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky still allowed state-authorized lotteries. Tickets from these few states were shipped around the country by mail or smugglers. Lottery prohibition had led to the creation of many illegal or underground lotteries.



By 1868


Most of the states had already adopted anti-lottery laws. By 1868, Congress declared it unlawful to use the mail for lotteries. The Supreme Court ruled that lotteries had "a demoralizing influence upon the people."


But also in 1868, the Louisiana Lottery Company was authorized and was granted a 25-year charter. A carpetbagger criminal syndicate from New York bribed the Legislature into passing the lottery law and establishing the syndicate as the sole lottery provider. The Louisiana Lottery was an interstate venture with over 90% of the company's revenue coming from outside Louisiana. This lottery was a prolific money maker. Attempts to repeal the 25-year charter were defeated with assistance of bribes to legislators.





All states except Louisiana prohibited lotteries.





The Louisiana Lottery was abolished after Congress enacted a prohibition against moving lottery tickets across state lines by any method.









From 1894 to 1964, there were no legal government-sponsored lotteries operating in the United States. This ban led to a paradox: of lotteries that were widely played, but always illegal. One of the most well known was the Irish Sweepstakes which began in 1930 for the purpose of raising money for hospitals in Ireland. Although it was illegal to sell tickets in the U.S. or to ship them here, they were smuggled into the country. Participation in America was high, with about 13 percent of the country having bought these tickets at sometime.

Another prominent form of the lottery was the illegal "numbers" game. Despite the illegality, numbers was quite popular. One author claimed that the amount being wagered on numbers was $5 billion in 1960. Another estimate shows that the numbers game was grossing $20 million annually in Chicago alone during the early 1970s and the total handle was $1.1 billion.





The Queensland State Lottery in Australia was first to start in 20th century.





Both the Irish Sweepstakes launched, and La Lotto de Firenze in Florence was introduced.





Growing opposition to tax increases became the leading factor for re-establishing state-run lotteries in the 20th century.

In 1964 New Hampshire was the first state to sponsor a lottery,  It was called a "Sweepstakes" and was affiliated with horse-racing to avoid the federal anti-lottery laws. The Tickets went on sale on March 12, 1964.





New York followed, establishing its own lottery.





Canada legalized gambling and gave Provinces authority to operate lottery. Charitable & religious organizations allowed to hold lotteries as well.





Manitoba & Quebec establish first modern Canadian Lotteries.





While sales of lottery tickets jumped from $5.7 million in 1964 to more that $202.4 million in 1999, New Jersey was the first state operate a financially successful modern lottery. It began in 1971, and  was successful because it stressed frequent action at low cost, returning a higher percentage of lottery revenues as prizes. There were also various attempts to legalize a national lottery, but they failed to be passed by Congress.






The Multi State Lottery started with The Lotto America game in February 1988. It was changed to a 6/54 game format in 1989, and offered two plays for $1.  In 1992, the first Powerball drawing was held, replacing the previous game.





The first Big Game drawing was held on September 6, 1996.  A Tuesday drawing was added in 1997, and players were given a cash payout option. In May 2002, this multi-state changed its name to Mega Millions.