History of the Lottery


The lottery’s earliest history can be traced to ancient times. The Old Testament commands Moses to divide the land of Israel by lot. In medieval Europe, lotteries were popular, and the Roman emperors used them to distribute slaves and property. In the United States, lottery funding was first tied to the founding of Jamestown, Virginia. Other private organizations and towns also used the money from the lottery to build schools, churches, and public works projects.

The monetary value of winning the lottery is usually viewed as a non-monetary benefit, but the security of the lottery can be circumvented by gluing winning numbers to the back of the ticket. A different approach, known as wicking, involves forcing a lottery number through a coating with solvents. As a result, the security of a lottery ticket is undermined. Moreover, non-monetary gains are often higher than monetary gains, enabling lotteries to be seen as profitable to the government.

In the early days of the lottery, the ticket price could be a single florin. This was equivalent to about US$170,000 at the time. Since the first lotteries involved tickets with monetary prizes, many Low Countries towns held public lotteries for the purpose of raising money for town fortifications or for the poor. Although these lotteries are relatively recent, they are often evidenced in town records. The records for L’Ecluse, a town in northern France, dated 9 May 1445, mention a public lottery to raise funds for walls and fortifications.