Lottery History


Lotteries are the most common form of public gambling in the world. They raise money for state and local governments through the sale of tickets containing numbers. Some states have more than one lottery, and some allow residents of other states to participate in their lottery. Lotteries have a long history and can be traced back to ancient times. They have been used to determine fates, and to award property and slaves. The drawing of lots to decide ownership or other rights is recorded in many ancient documents, including the Bible. Using lotteries to distribute prizes in exchange for money, however, is much more recent. The first recorded public lottery was organized by the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar to fund municipal repairs in Rome. The first European lotteries to offer tickets and prizes in the form of cash were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century.

Lottery players vary by socioeconomic status and other factors. For example, men play more frequently than women; blacks and Hispanics play more than whites; and people who are poorer and older tend to play less. In general, lottery play declines with education and increases with income. In Canada, before 1967 it was illegal to buy a lottery ticket, but that changed with the passage of an omnibus bill.

Once established, state lotteries are hard to abolish. They have broad and deep support among the general population. They also develop extensive specific constituencies, such as convenience store operators (whose customers typically buy lotto tickets); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions from them to state political campaigns are reported); teachers (in states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education); and state legislators, who quickly become accustomed to a new source of revenue.