The first recorded signs of a lottery are keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. These lotteries are believed to have helped to finance major government projects like the Great Wall of China. From the Chinese "The Book of Songs" (2nd millennium BC.) comes a reference to a game of chance as "the drawing of wood", which in context appears to describe the drawing of lots.
The first known European lotteries were held during the Roman Empire, mainly as an amusement at dinner parties. Each guest would receive a ticket, and prizes would often consist of fancy items such as dinnerware. Every ticket holder would be assured of winning something. This type of lottery, however, was no more than the distribution of gifts by wealthy noblemen during the Saturnalian revelries. The earliest records of a lottery offering tickets for sale is the lottery organized by Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. The funds were for repairs in the City of Rome, and the winners were given prizes in the form of articles of unequal value.
The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Various towns held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications, and to help the poor. The town records of Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges indicate that lotteries may be even older. A record dated 9 May 1445 at L'Ecluse refers to raising funds to build walls and town fortifications, with a lottery of 4,304 tickets and total prize money of 1737 florins (worth about US$170,000 in 2014). In the 17th century it was quite usual in the Netherlands to organize lotteries to collect money for the poor or in order to raise funds for all kinds of public usages. The lotteries proved very popular and were hailed as a painless form of taxation. The Dutch state-owned Staatsloterij is the oldest running lottery. The English word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun "lot" meaning "fate".
The first recorded Italian lottery was held on 9 January 1449 in Milan organized by the Golden Ambrosian Republic to finance the war against the Republic of Venice. However, it was in Genoa that Lotto became very popular. People used to bet on the name of Great Council members, who were drawn by chance, five out of ninety candidates every six months . This kind of gambling was called Lotto or Semenaiu. When people wanted to bet more frequently than twice a year, they began to substitute the candidates names with numbers and modern lotto was born, to which both modern legal lotteries and the illegal Numbers game can trace their ancestry.
Early modern history
King Francis I of France discovered the lotteries during his campaigns in Italy and decided to organize such a lottery in his kingdom to help the state finances. The first French lottery, the Loterie Royale, was held in 1539 and was authorized with the edict of Châteaurenard. This attempt was a fiasco, since the tickets were very costly and the social classes which could afford them opposed the project. During the two following centuries lotteries in France were forbidden or, in some cases, tolerated.
Although the English probably first experimented with raffles and similar games of chance, the first recorded official lottery was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, in the year 1566, and was drawn in 1569. This lottery was designed to raise money for the "reparation of the havens and strength of the Realme, and towardes such other publique good workes". Each ticket holder won a prize, and the total value of the prizes equalled the money raised. Prizes were in the form of silver plate and other valuable commodities. The lottery was promoted by scrolls posted throughout the country showing sketches of the prizes.
Selling tickets in London for the last government lottery in England
Thus, the lottery money received was an interest free loan to the government during the three years that the tickets ('without any Blankes') were sold. In later years, the government sold the lottery ticket rights to brokers, who in turn hired agents and runners to sell them. These brokers eventually became the modern day stockbrokers for various commercial ventures.
Most people could not afford the entire cost of a lottery ticket, so the brokers would sell shares in a ticket; this resulted in tickets being issued with a notation such as "Sixteenth" or "Third Class".
Many private lotteries were held, including raising money for The Virginia Company of London to support its settlement in America at Jamestown. The English State Lottery ran from 1694 until 1826. Thus, the English lotteries ran for over 250 years, until the government, under constant pressure from the opposition in parliament, declared a final lottery in 1826. This lottery was held up to ridicule by contemporary commentators as "the last struggle of the speculators on public credulity for popularity to their last dying lottery".
Early United States 1612–1900
An English lottery, authorized by King James I in 1612, granted the Virginia Company of London the right to raise money to help establish settlers in the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Virginia.
Lotteries in colonial America played a significant part in the financing of both private and public ventures. It has been recorded that more than 200 lotteries were sanctioned between 1744 and 1776, and played a major role in financing roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, bridges, etc.
In the 1740s, the foundation of Princeton and Columbia Universities was financed by lotteries, as was the University of Pennsylvania by the Academy Lottery in 1755.
During the French and Indian Wars, several colonies used lotteries to help finance fortifications and their local militia. In May 1758, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts raised money with a lottery for the "Expedition against Canada".
Benjamin Franklin organized a lottery to raise money to purchase cannon for the defense of Philadelphia. Several of these lotteries offered prizes in the form of "Pieces of Eight". George Washington's Mountain Road Lottery in 1768 was unsuccessful, but these rare lottery tickets bearing Washington's signature became collectors' items; one example sold for about $15,000 in 2007. Washington was also a manager for Col. Bernard Moore's "Slave Lottery" in 1769, which advertised land and slaves as prizes in The Virginia Gazette.
At the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress used lotteries to raise money to support the Colonial Army. Alexander Hamilton wrote that lotteries should be kept simple, and that "Everybody ... will be willing to hazard a trifling sum for the chance of considerable gain ... and would prefer a small chance of winning a great deal to a great chance of winning little". Taxes had never been accepted as a way to raise public funding for projects, and this led to the popular belief that lotteries were a form of hidden tax.
At the end of the Revolutionary War the various states had to resort to lotteries to raise funds for numerous public projects.
The first big lottery on German soil was held in 1614 in Hamburg.
In Austria the first lottery was drawn in 1751, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresia, and was named Lotto di Genova since it was based on 90 numbers.
Spain offers a wealth of lottery games, the majority of which are operated by Loterías y Apuestas del Estado with the remaining lotteries operated by the ONCE and the Catalan government. The first Spanish lottery game was played back in 1763 and, over the last two centuries, playing the lottery in Spain has developed into a tradition.
The Spanish Christmas Lottery (officially Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad [soɾˈteo ekstɾaorðiˈnaɾjo ðe naβiˈðað] or simply Lotería de Navidad [loteˈɾia ðe naβiˈðað]) is a national lottery. It is organized every year since 1812 by a branch of the Spanish Public Administration, now called Loterías y Apuestas del Estado. The name Sorteo de Navidad was used for the first time in 1892.
The Spanish Christmas lottery is the second longest continuously running lottery in the world. This includes the years during the Spanish Civil War when the lottery draw was held in Valencia after the Republicans were forced to relocate their capital from Madrid. After the overthrow of the Republican government the lottery continued uninterrupted under the Franco regime.