History of Lotteries

Lotteries may seem like a modern invention but this couldn't be further from the truth. Indeed, the indications are that the history of lotteries dates back to around 205 B.C. and, as with so many innovations, it can be traced to China, whose Han Dynasty is thought to have used a lottery-like game, called Keno, to fund the Great Wall of China.

Early beginnings of Lotteries

China wasn't the only early civilization to use lotteries. There is evidence of lotteries in the Roman Empire -- a lottery arranged by Emperor Augustus Caesar is credited with being the first to involve the sale of tickets. The lottery raised funds for repairs in Rome.

Raising state funds is a common theme in most of the early lotteries. Another example was the common usage of lotteries in the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) from the 15th century. One such lottery, in 1445, is recorded as having involved the sale of 4,304 tickets for a total prize money pot of 1,737 florins.

Early American lotteries

It's interesting to note that the first English settlement in America, at Jamestown, was partly funded by a private lottery. Thereafter, lotteries thrived in early colonial America and funds raised were used to finance the building of roads, churches, libraries and colleges. Princeton was among the beneficiaries.

This all sounds very good and laudable, but a great deal of corruption began to tarnish the reputation of lotteries, and Congress enacted legislation that introduced a ban on lotteries by 1900.

Modern lotteries

The legal ban on lotteries was lifted in the U.S. after World War II, but it wasn't until the 1960s that lotteries began to make a concerted revival. The first of these modern lotteries was in New Hampshire in 1964; most states now run lotteries. Beyond the United States, national lotteries are also commonplace, with examples including the United Kingdom and Ireland. Modern technologies, of course, have greatly changed the way that tickets are distributed: Today's participants can buy their tickets via the Internet. However, the basic premise of lotteries remains unchanged. Those entering lotteries do so in the hope that a small outlay will result in a big win, and they realize the outcome is based on chance rather than skill. The profits from lotteries may line the pockets of lottery companies, but money is also still raised for public works and good causes.




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