History of the Lottery


Throughout history, lotteries have been used to raise money for public projects. During the French and Indian Wars, several colonies had lotteries to raise money for the colonial armies. They also raised money for town fortifications, bridges, and libraries. Some lotteries also collected funds for the poor and for charitable causes.

The first known European lotteries were distributed by wealthy noblemen during Saturnalian revels. The word lottery is derived from the Dutch word “lot,” meaning “fate.” These early lotteries were simple raffles, and enticed guests to buy tickets by promising them a chance to win something.

Lotteries were used to raise funds for wars, college scholarships, libraries, and town fortifications. They also raised money for roads, bridges, and canals. Many lotteries organized themselves so that a percentage of their profits would go to charities. Some lotteries also donated money to colleges.

Lotteries are operated by state governments. The United States currently has forty states with lotteries. These lotteries operate under the supervision of state legislatures. Each state has a different method for allocating the profits from the lottery. Most lottery officials work with retailers to help increase sales. Most lottery retailers are convenience stores, restaurants, bars, service stations, and nonprofit organizations. Some lotteries have teamed with sports franchises to market their games. These promotions typically feature cartoon characters and famous sports figures.

In the late 17th century, several colonies held lotteries to raise funds for college scholarships. In 1755, the Academy Lottery funded the University of Pennsylvania. In 1758, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts raised money for an “Expedition against Canada” with a lottery. And, in 1769, Col. Bernard Moore’s “Slave Lottery” promoted land and slaves as prizes. In the 1990s, lottery profits surpassed tax revenue in some states, and many lotteries have teamed with sports franchises for advertising.

Most lottery games are sold for a dollar. Players pick six numbers from a set of balls numbered from 1 to 50. When a set of numbers matches the winning set, the ticket holder wins a prize. Some lotteries have higher jackpots than others, and the larger the jackpot, the more ticket sales are likely to occur.

The North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) Web site lists nearly 186,000 lottery retailers. Besides convenience stores, most lottery retailers also offer online services. Many offer information on scratch-game prizes. A recent study found that most lottery retailers are high school educated, middle-aged men. These are the most likely to play frequently.

Many lottery retailers are also involved in the marketing and advertising of their games. They offer information about their games online, and can answer questions. Some lottery retailers offer a service that allows consumers to read game promotions online.

Some lotteries have a “Big Game” game, which accounted for about six percent of total lottery sales in states where it was offered. But, sales lagged during fiscal year 2001. Other lottery games, such as Mega Millions, were introduced and had larger jackpots.