History of Lottery Games

Monday September 17, 2018 11:13 am

The Lottery Lab Staff

Lottery games have been popular for centuries and continue to provide excitement today. People buy tickets in hope of winning alife changing fortune. In this article, we explore how lotteries have evolved over the years.

The history of lotteriescan be traced back to Biblical times. In the Old Testament, games of chance were used to settle legal disputes, allocate unpopular jobs, and assigning property rights (e.g., Numbers 26:55). Greek literature includes references to casting lots, for example, in the Illiad, Hector and Odysseus cast lots in a bronze helmet do decide the terms of a duel (Book III: 310-394)..

Lotteries and sweepstakes were popular in the ancient Asian civilizations. In China and Japan, games of chance were used to forecast the future. However, as Islam spread across the Middle East, the Koran forbid gambling of any kind.

It was the Roman Empire that organized lotteries along similar lines as they are conducted nowadays.Roman emperors and nobles held lotteries primarily for entertainment purposes. Lotteries began to be used for raising revenues to finance state activities in Europe towards the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Since then, lotteriesin different formats have continued to be held in different countries through modern day..

Lotteries play a key role in the modern economy. In most states lotteriesgenerate funds for government sponsored social projects such as education and care for the elderly. A specific proportion of the money raised from the sale of tickets is earmarked for charitable causes.

The etymology of the word ‘lottery’ provides a timeline for thehistory of lottery games. Some sources claim that the word ‘lottery’ is derived from the German expression, ‘hleut’ which translates to ‘lot’ in English and ‘los’ in French. The connotation of the German ‘hleut’ implies allocation of a part or lot from a whole. Other sources claim that the word originated from the Dutch word ‘lot’ which means ‘fate’ signifying that lottery is basically a game of luck or chance.

Lottery Games in the Ancient Ages

The most primitive lottery game format can be sourced back to a time period between 205 BC and 187 BC when the Han Dynasty flourished in China. Archives dating back to those times suggest that the proceeds from the lottery games were diverted for construction of the ‘Great Wall of China’.

Sweepstake games were prevalent in the Roman Empire. However, they were mostly played at dinner parties of the royalty solely for entertainment. In these games, every participant would get a ticket that was tied to a specific prize or reward (Thus everybody recieved something). The first time a game was held commercially in the Roman Empire where the public bought tickets was during Augustus Cesar’s reign (27BC-14AD). Funds collected from this raffle went into renovating Rome-the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

Lotteries in the Medieval Ages

Lottery games in Europe aremuch more modern as the game gained popularity beginning in the early part of the sixteenth century. The most primitive versions of commercial national and multistate lotteries in Europe and North America were used by Italian traders in the medieval times. Flanders, (the Dutch speaking region of northern Belgium in the 15th cent) witnessed a reemergence of the game.

Two centuries ago, spaces or areas in the market were distributed in Brussels using a lottery system. Over time, lotteries began to be arranged on a regular basis in Netherlands and Belgium from 15th cent onwards.

Lotteries became popular in Italy when raffles were held in Milan to amass funds to finance a war against Venice. A randomized draw was organized in Genoa where the public was asked to wager on the 5 “lucky council members” out of 90 who would be chosen. This type of lottery was held in Genoa twice annually and later on the councilors’ names were replaced with numbers.

The raffle in Genoa is believed to be the first lottery where the participants were required to randomly select a set of numbers. This game still thrives in Italy under the title, ‘SuperEnalotto’ where 6 numbers are picked up at random from a pool of 90 numerals. Any player whose numbers match with the winning combination wins the jackpot.

In England, raffles were initially played in the 17th century with the objective of financing British voyages to North America. King James I of England started a sweepstake to finance the first permanent colony in North America-Jamestown, Virginia. Since then, organizations in the public as well as private sector have organized lotteries to pool money for building towns, parishes, colleges, turnkey projects, and for waging wars.

The first nationwide state lottery in England was held in 1569 where the numbered balls were pulled out by Queen Elizabeth. The total purse to be distributed corresponded with the amount collected via ticket sales, and the bonanza prizes were the most valuable. One unusual feature of the lottery was that anybody accused of a non-violent crime was deemed exonerated on purchasing a ticket.

Evolution of Lotteries in America

Although Europe was the original breeding ground for the lottery in its diverse formats, it was in the relatively new America that had gained freedom from colonial rule, where the contemporary versions first evolved. In 1655, a lottery was held in New Amsterdam (present day New York) where the participants were asked to estimate the approximate number of bibles sold in a specific time period. Though some of the founding fathers would have disapproved of the lotto games, it is interesting to note that some world-class institutions were financed through state-regulated lotteries.

Evolution and Development of Modern Lottery Games

State regulated and/or licensed private lotteries are now held routinely in most countries in Latin America, North America, Europe, Asian mainland, Middle East, and Australia. Several multistate lotteries are held weekly in the US, MegaMillions and Powerball being the two most popular franchises.

Nationwide lottery as it is played today owes its origin to Australia. State sweepstakes have been held in the Australian territory of ‘New South Wales’ since 1849. The territory witnesses the organization of one of the biggest sweepstakes in Australia with ticket sales exceeding 1 million every week. The construction of the world famous Sydney Opera House was largely funded by the NSW state lotto.

The traditional format of sweepstakes was played with tickets that came with printed symbols or numbers. This format has become obsolete. From the latter half of the 20th century, players gained the ability to choose a number combination from a pool of numbers. This lotto format where the numbers on the player’s ticket must completely match the numbers drawn to win the jackpot is the dominant lottery mode in majority of the countries.