The History of Lotteries


The history of lotteries dates back to medieval Europe. During the Middle Ages, Low Countries towns began holding public lotteries for the purpose of raising money for fortifications, public works, or the poor. In fact, some town records indicate that lotteries may have been around for much longer. For example, a record from L’Ecluse, France, dated 9 May 1445, refers to raising money for walls and fortifications and mentions a lottery involving 4,304 tickets. In 2014, that would be worth about US$170,000.


There are several theories about the origins of lottery gambling. Some claim that lottery gambling dates back to the Old Testament, when it was used by Moses as a means of settling legal disputes and assigning property rights. Other claims state that the lottery was also used by ancient Romans to settle disputes and fund unpopular jobs. In the Renaissance, lottery gambling became popular as a way to raise money for public projects, courts, and wars.

Early American lotteries

Early American colonists brought the lottery custom from England. Early American lotteries served many purposes, from raising money for schools to selling land. While these lotteries may have seemed grim at first, they were never used for such gloomy ends. The Massachusetts Land Lottery of 1786, for example, raised money for public schools while raising funds for new homes. It was the President and Fellows of Harvard College who bought 20 tickets, winning a large tract of land in the Maine region.


There are regulations for lottery schemes. A license must be issued before a lottery can be conducted. These regulations require that all cash proceeds from the lottery be deposited into a trust account, not an operating one. The licensee cannot transfer money from the trust account to another account until all the money in the trust account has been used for a charitable purpose that the division has approved. These regulations also state that the lottery must use any interest earned on the funds in its trust account for the benefit of the community.


The earliest recorded lotteries offered cash prizes on tickets. Low Countries towns held public lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and the poor. There are no records of lottery games earlier than the early medieval period, but town records suggest they might have existed even before that. For example, a record dated 9 May 1445 in L’Ecluse mentions a lottery for four hundred and thirty-four florins (about US$170,000 in 2014).


Be on the lookout for Lottery scams. These scammers may contact you via U.S. Mail or telephone to claim that you’ve won a prize. They may claim to be a customs official, a lawyer, or even a government official. In reality, they just want your money. They’ll make you believe it’s real and ask you to deposit a check in their account.

Influence on society

The impact of lottery winnings on individuals may be measurable in short-term happiness and mental health, but the effect on long-run wealth is less clear. Long-run lottery effects may have larger short-run impacts, but it’s difficult to justify such assumptions. For example, a study by Briggs et al. (2011) found that lottery winners’ happiness did not change significantly over a period of five to 22 years after winning.