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 Lottery History


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Lottery History


The Use of Lots in Judea and Roman Empire

European Lottery History

Lottery History in America


The Use of Lots in Judea and Roman Empire

The word “lottery” is derived from the word “lot”. “Lot” throughout the history meant a small object like a stone, bone etc. that was used to determine the outcome of a chance event. The result of the events based on chance was considered to be an indication of the God’s will and helped people to come to the “right “decisions acceptable by everybody and avoid conflicts. The random events involved in such decision making were usually throwing the lots on the ground or shaking them out of the vessel. An interpretation of the seen result followed and the decision was made.

The lots as the way to find out the God’s choice were very popular in ancient Judea. According to the Old Testament Moses was instructed by the Lord to use the lots to divide the land among Israelites. The first King of Israel was chosen by lot. In the New Testament Matthias – the apostle, which replaced Judas after his death – was picked through casting the lots on the ground. Many Roman emperors including Octavian and Nero used lots during their parties to give away gifts and pieces of lands to the Roman aristocracy. The same practice of dividing the land and awarding the gifts by lots continued in feudal Europe.

Lottery History in Europe

Toward the end of the Middle Ages the lottery became an important form of gambling and the method to collect money for public projects and needs in many European countries. The European lottery history started in 1466 in Holland. The widow of the great Flemish painter Jan van Eyck promoted the first lottery at Bruges to dispose of some expensive merchandise for which buyers could not readily be found.

The French lottery history began around 1530 when Frances I of France decided to establish a government lottery to solve fiscal problems. Lotteries in France enjoyed wide popularity till 1776 when all private lotteries were abolished. Public lotteries were cancelled in 1836 but resumed in 1844 under the condition that money will be raised for charities and encouragement of the fine arts.

The starting point of Italian lottery history was the year of 1539 when the first Italian lottery – “La lotto de Firenze” – was organized in Florence. That lottery was the first one to give away cash prizes. That made it so popular the other Italian cities followed Florence example and the whole country was consumed by the lottery fever. The first national Italian lottery called “Lotto” was founded in 1863. The weekly drawings became an important source of the state revenue.

The first lottery in the English lottery history took place under the Queen Elizabeth in 1569 with the prizes in silverware, tapestry and money. The number of tickets sold was 40,000. The price per ticket was 10 schillings. The raised funds were used to help with the construction of the harbors. In the early 1600s King James I gave his permission to Virginia Company to run a public lottery to finance the building of the Jamestown in America. By 1620 half of the annual income of Virginia Company was derived from its lottery operations. In 1627 another public lottery was organized to build an aqueduct in London. Due to the fact that lottery fraud became an inseparable part of the lottery operations, the lotteries were banned in England from the mid-1600s to 1709. They were banned again in 1826.

The History of Lottery in America

The lottery history in the United States goes back to the colonial times, when Virginia and other colonies were organizing lotteries to get funds for financing all kinds of public works. The lottery money built the roads and bridges, schools, churches and hospitals. Education was also helped a great deal by the lotteries. In 1746 the colony of New York ran a lottery with a purpose of raising few thousands pounds to found a college. Later, that college became Columbia University. Many other universities including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and others were financed in big part by the lotteries.

The lotteries also helped to raise funds to support military operations. Massachusetts and other colonies had to rely heavily on the lottery revenue to finance military actions against Canada during the French and Indian War. Guns, ammunition, uniforms and equipment were bought and produced by the lottery profits. For awhile the First Continental Congress was considering in 1776 an idea to use a lottery to come up with millions to finance American Revolution, but eventually the plan was rejected.

In the early 1800s the popularity of the lottery reached its peak. In 1830s 400 lotteries were running on a regular basis in the few Northern states. The popularity and the growth of the lotteries inevitably led to the endless abuses and fraud perpetrated by the lottery operators. The public and the states were duped out of millions. The strong reaction from the public forced the Congress to take the decisive action. The pivotal point in the US lottery history came in 1868 when the Congress produced the legislation prohibiting the use of mail for lottery promotion. After that the lotteries practically disappeared all over the country with the exception of the Louisiana Lottery, which stopped its operations in 1906.

Almost 60 years later the state of New Hampshire decided to revive the state lottery to raise necessary funds for the state’s education system. Soon after that New Jersey and New York followed New Hampshire into the new Lottery era. At the present time the whole country is consumed by the lottery fever once again and the lottery history in the United States continues into the future.

Copyright Progress Publishing Co.

Selected References:

George Sullivan  The History of Lotteries Leo Markun  A History of Gambling
Jeffrey Feinman  The Prize Winner's Handbook Alice Fleming  Something for Nothing/A History of Gambling