The History of the Lottery


In colonial America, the lottery was an important way to raise funds for roads, colleges, libraries, canals, and bridges. Colleges like Princeton and Columbia were financed with lotteries, and the University of Pennsylvania had its Academy Lottery in 1755. Several colonies used lotteries to fund the French and Indian Wars, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ran a lottery for an “Expedition Against Canada” in 1758.

The history of lotteries varies, though both Italian and European ones share similarities. French lotteries started in the 1500s, when Francis I introduced them in his kingdom. The first lottery in France was held in 1539, and the name was Loterie Royale. The lottery’s popularity grew until the 17th century, when Louis XIV won the top prize and returned the money for redistribution. France banned the lottery for two centuries, though it was tolerated in some places.

In the ancient world, the practice of dividing property by lot was recorded in many ancient texts. In the Old Testament, Moses instructed the Israelites to take a census of their people and divide land by lot. The practice became common in Europe in the late fifteenth century. In the United States, the lottery was tied to the government in 1612 when King James I of England used it to fund the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. Lotteries later became a common source of funding for towns, wars, colleges, public-works projects, and other needs.

There are arguments for both sides of the lottery debate. Those who support it note that the lottery is an easy way for state governments to increase their revenues and benefits from increased tax revenue. At the same time, lottery players enjoy the thrill of winning, and they also get to play a game that satisfies their fantasy of becoming rich. In the end, lottery players are likely to choose the latter. It’s important to remember that lottery tickets are not necessarily beneficial for the economy.