The History of the Lottery

The lottery has a long history. The first recorded lotteries offered tickets with money prizes. In the Old Testament, Moses is told to take a census of the people in Israel and divide their land by lot. Roman emperors held public lotteries to raise funds for fortifications and poor people. Some historians believe that lotteries were even earlier. In 1445, a record from L’Ecluse, France, mentions a lottery to raise funds for walls and fortifications. A single ticket was worth four florins, which is about $170,000 in 2014 dollars.


In the US, lottery tickets were first recorded in the Han Dynasty. In addition to helping finance government projects, lottery slips date back to at least 205 BC. The Chinese Book of Songs describes the lottery as a “drawing of lots” or “drawing of wood.” While the game is not as old as the ones found in the US, the Chinese have long been involved. A lucky number is drawn, and a winner receives a prize worth up to the value of their wagers.

In ancient times, lottery games were popular in the Netherlands. They were used to collect funds for the poor and were hailed as a painless method of taxation. The oldest continuously running lottery, the Staatsloterij, is said to be as old as the Bible. The word “lottery” derives from the Dutch noun “lot”, which means fate. The ancient Egyptians used lotteries as a way to give away slaves and property.