The History of the Lottery

The history of the lottery dates back to colonial America. Between 205 BC and 187 BC, the Chinese held over 200 lotteries. The winnings were used to fund many projects, including roads, libraries, colleges, and canals. The University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University were funded by the Academy Lottery in the 1740s. In the 19th century, several colonies used the lottery to raise funds for the French and Indian Wars. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts used a lottery in 1758 to fund an “Expedition” against Canada.


In the Netherlands, lotteries became common, collecting money for the poor and public needs. Though they were not widely popular, they were praised as a painless taxation method. The oldest continuously running lottery in the world is the Staatsloterij in the Netherlands. The English word lottery derives from the Dutch noun, ‘lot,’ which means “fate.” The oldest lottery is still in operation today in the UK. The Dutch lottery is also one of the oldest in existence.

The first recorded lotteries offered money prizes in return for tickets. These early lottery-type games were conducted by local governments to raise funds for town fortifications and the poor. There are no records that show when the first lotteries were held, but town records indicate they may have been as old as the early Renaissance. In a record dated 9 May 1445 at L’Ecluse, a record states that the money raised from the lottery was used for wall construction and for fortifications. The winning ticket was worth four florins, which is equivalent to approximately US$170,000 in 2014.