A lottery is defined as a game of chance or a method of raising money, in which a large number of chances are sold, and a drawing is held for money or prizes. This concept can be traced back a long way throughout the history of humanity, as the funds raised by lotteries have been used for communal defense, to finance wars, for education, and for other governmental and societal uses for which a large amount of money was required.
In ancient history, the first evidence of a lottery has been traced back to the Han Dynasty in China, from between 205 and 187 B.C. This civilization played a form of Keno, which is a game where players choose a subset of a group of numbers, and then another subset of these numbers is chosen at random by the game administrator. The players must match their numbers with the numbers that were chosen at random in order to win, with the number of matches determining the level of success in the game. It has been said that the Great Wall of China was partially funded through lotteries such as these.
In the 1400’s, towns in France used lotteries to fund improvements to their defenses. They were permitted to operate by King Francis of France in 1520; however, they were soon forbidden for 200 years after the first official attempt. In 1530, La Lotto de Firenze in Florence, Italy, became the first municipal lottery to award money as a prize. In time, other cities in Italy followed suit, as the first lottery had proven very successful.
In 1567, Queen Elizabeth I established the first state lottery of England, as four hundred thousand chances to win cash and other prizes were offered for sale. Later, the financing of the settlement of Jamestown in the New World was aided by another English lottery in 1612. Among the English colonies, the first lottery was organized in Massachusetts in 1744 to help pay off military debts, however; the first national lottery wasn’t formed until 1776. This time, the funds went to a different military cause, as the colonists were trying to finance their independence, but the result of the lottery was not as successful as the war for which the money was raised. Other, more successful lotteries were used during that time period though, to help build several colleges and universities, such as Columbia, Yale, Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth.
By the early 19th century, the immense popularity of lotteries began to be overshadowed by corruption, as people tried to make money on the side using unscrupulous practices. People would bet on the side, or would mark the price of tickets up heavily and then resell them, and soon there began a movement to disallow lotteries. It became illegal in 1827 for postmasters to sell lottery tickets, and shortly thereafter, lotteries became unlawful in most states. In 1868, Congress passed a law barring the use of mail for lotteries.
These days, lotteries are much more accepted, as most states in the U.S. have some form of state lottery, and many participate in larger lotteries that are national in scope, such as Powerball or Mega Millions, which pay out huge, multi-million dollar jackpots and sell hundreds of millions of tickets. The money from these lotteries is typically earmarked by each state to help fund certain functions of government, such as education. There are many lotteries in other parts of the world as well, including EuroMillions in Europe, SuperEnalotto in Italy, the English National Lottery, and La Française des Jeux, the government owned lottery in France. Lotteries have proven to be as popular today as they have ever been in history.