Who Invented Lottery? (Invention Timeline Explained)

A lottery is a legal form of gambling in the United States and other countries that involves the random drawing of numbers with an equivalent prize, typically cash. The jackpot prizes today could run in the millions. Government regulations prohibit the sale of lottery tickets to minors. The vendors should be licensed. In the U.S. and other countries, the state runs the lottery, and as it was first played, governments use the profits for public projects. There are too many things to learn about the lottery and its evolution, so keep reading.

Who invented lottery?

The inventors of the ancient lottery game were the Chinese from the first period of the Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago. The government needed funds to finance their various projects, and found lottery as the easiest way o generate funds without collecting additional taxes from the people. 

Lottery’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Chinese Han Dynasty
    First recorded lottery

    Between 205 and 187 BC, Keno slips (baige piao) from the Chinese Han dynasty were considered the first lottery’s recorded signs. These lotteries helped fund the construction of the Great Wall of China and other government projects without taxing the citizens.

  • Low Countries
    First lottery with tickets/cash prizes

    Back in the 15th century, the Low Countries, such as Bruges, Utrecht, and Ghent, had the first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale. The prizes were in the form of money. Several towns held public lotteries to raise funds to help the poor and improve town fortifications. Later the games became a form of taxation.

  • Italy
    Birth of modern lotto

    In Milan, Italy, the first recorded lottery was in 1449. The Ambrosian Republic organized the lottery to finance their war against the Venice Republic. In Genoa, they used the lottery to bet on the members of the Great Council. The Genoans called their game ”semenaiu” or lotto. For additional games, they used numbers.

  • France 
    Loterie Royale

    During the Italian campaigns of France’s King Francis I, he discovered the lotteries. He later organized the first Loterie Royale in 1539. It was a legal activity authorized by a mandate. But the initial attempt failed because the ticket was expensive, and the elite classes, who were the only ones who could afford the ticket price, opposed the idea.

  • Early United States
    Colonial America lottery

    In 1612, King James I authorized an English lottery by granting the Virginia Company of London to raise money to support the permanent English colonies in Virginia. Between 1744 and 1776, about 200 sanctioned lotteries increased funds to construct public buildings, including the University of Pennsylvania. Columbia University and Princeton University.

When was lottery invented?

According to records, the lottery game started with the Chinese during the first Han Dynasty, between 205 BC and 187 BC. The first lottery game used ancient keno slips or baige piao. Proceeds from the lottery went to various government projects, including the construction of the Great Wall of China. 

A brief history of lottery

The lottery has a long and interesting history. It started with the first recorded evidence of a lottery game from the early Han dynasty in China. The Chinese played a Keno-style game where slips of paper had Chinese characters or numbers. The winning numbers had a corresponding prize. The Chinese government used the lottery to collect funds to finance various public projects quickly. For example, part of the earnings from the lottery went to the construction of the Great Wall of China.

In Europe, the Roman Empire held lotteries usually as a form of entertainment for the elites. Each guest received a ticket and would surely win a prize. It was a way for the wealthy to distribute wealth.

In the 15th century, several towns in the Low Countries held public lotteries to raise money to help the poor and improve the town fortifications. In the Netherlands, the country established the Staatsloterij in 1726, which still operates today. The word lottery came from the Dutch word ”lot”, which means fate.

France tried to run a lottery in 1539; however, it failed because the ticket price was costly, and the people who could afford the tickets did not support the project. France’s king, Francis I got the idea for the lottery from the Italians, who ran successful lottery games.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Over in England, Queen Elizabeth I decided to have a lottery as well, with a jackpot prize of £5,000, which was huge then. The queen presided over the drawing, where she picked the winning numbers. Soon the lottery reached the United States, where the British government sent English settlers.

The U.S. lotteries were patterned after Britain. Individual states run lottery games to help raise funds for various public projects. They divide the earnings from ticket sales in different ways. A big portion goes to the prizes and the administrative cost. The remaining money is the profit that goes to finance government programs.

Modern lottery includes various games, such as scratch games, second-chance games, video lottery, and multi-state games, such as Mega Millions and Powerball.

Lottery timeline

  1. 205 BC to 187 BC

    The early Han Chinese used to play a version of modern-day Keno, which they called ”baige piao” or white pigeon ticket. The lottery-style game made players choose a series of characters/numbers and receive a prize through a random drawing. The game was popular across China as it became an effective method to raise funds.  

  2. 6th century
    Greek lottery

    The ancient Greeks had a lottery-type activity they initially used to select government officials. They invented the kleroterion, a device for random drawing using a stone slab with slots with the name of each candidate. Citizens used black and white pebbles to choose the winners.  

  3. 1500s
    Italian lot-based games

    During the Renaissance, Italy had several lot-based gambling games for private and public moneymaking. Lotteries began in Venice, Rome, and Florence, with various prizes, from government contracts, servants, jewels, carpets, real estate, and cash. As a government fund-collecting program, it financed multiple projects, including the Rialto Bridge in Venice.

  4. 1812
    Spanish Christmas lottery

    Spain conceived a Christmas lottery they called El Gordo (Fat One). It has been running for more than 200 years. Spain started it to generate war funds and started the tradition of using orphan boys from the San Ildefonso School, a boy’s home. Spain plays El Gordo every December 22, with overall prizes reaching 2.5 billion dollars.

  5. 1776
    Lottery in the British colonies in America

    England’s lottery spread to the British colonies in the United States. Private lotteries partly financed the Jamestown colony. Former U.S. presidents George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock ran lotteries to fund war efforts, public works, universities, and reconstruction.

Where was the lottery invented?

By all accounts, China invented the lottery during the first Han dynasty. The Chinese played a keno-style lottery game where players picked paper slips with numbers or Chinese characters. 

Why people love lottery?

  • Win the jackpot

    This is the most obvious reason for playing the lottery. People want to win big. Most people play the lottery to win the jackpot prize, which can set them up for life. However, they are encouraged to play more when they win smaller prizes, which they think can make them move on to bigger cash prizes.

  • It is fun to play the lottery

    Many people play the lottery because they enjoy the game. A bit of adrenalin rush accompanies playing the lottery and potentially winning it. In addition, the lotto is an enjoyable social activity – from choosing the lucky numbers and picking the lottery ticket. Some people even enjoy searching for lucky outlets.

  • It can change their lives

    It is exciting to wait for the lottery draws. But, there is the anticipation of the lottery changing their life. Some people were lucky enough to become millionaires with a single lottery ticket, while others bought more to increase their chances. Most people believe money can solve most of their problems.

  • It satisfies their curiosity

    Regular lottery players say that they started playing because they were curious. They wanted to know how people win the lottery or the lotto. Therefore, they want to experience how the game works and understand its mystery. Most people’s curiosity develops into genuine and strong interest, turning them into passionate players.

  • It can fulfill their dreams

    People all have a dream – to win a jackpot, live in a big house with all the amenities, travel the world, own businesses, or have money to spend without breaking their backs. Winning the lottery gives them a feeling of accomplishment; plus, it has a glamorous side.

Lottery by the numbers

  • 55 states in the U.S. do not run Powerball. Nevada only runs gambling casinos. Alabama is in the Bible belt. Utah’s constitution bans all forms of gambling, while Alaska and Hawaii do not have enough population for them to run a lottery.
  • 10In 2018, Oksana Saharov wanted to buy a $1 scratch card, but the clerk made a mistake and gave her a $10 Set4Life ticket, but she still paid for it. When she used it, she learned that she won a $5 million guaranteed payout, which she will receive in annual payments for the rest of her life.
  • 45 to 54According to statistics, the lottery is the most popular among Americans in the 45 to 54 age group, with 75 percent of people in this group playing the lottery regularly. On the other hand, only about 70 percent of people in the 55 to 64 age group are interested in the lottery.
  • 5,000In the first-ever state lottery in England held in 1567, Queen Elizabeth I offered a 5,000-pound cash prize. One lottery ticket cost ten shillings. In addition, all ticket holders won a prize like linens, tapestries, and silver plates for the winners. Likewise, all winners received immunity from arrest, subject to specific conditions.
  • 10,082,816The chances of winning the jackpot are one in 13,983,816 if you choose six numbers from a list of 49 numbers. If you are to buy one ticket each week based on this scenario, it will take 269,000 years before you can win the jackpot.

Five facts about lottery

  • Blindfolded draw

    Lotteries were first played in France in the 16th century. The monarchy considered lotteries a source of funds for military academies, hospitals, and schools. They used to blindfold a child who would draw the winning ticket by spinning a wheel with the corresponding prize. 

  • Single biggest winner

    In October 2018, a Mega Millions ticket holder was declared the single biggest winner. The lucky person won $1.53 billion. The winner was from South Carolina, but the participant opted to remain anonymous, maybe due to scammers still using the name of Manuel Franco for their phishing activities.

  • Queenly lottery

    Queen Elizabeth I organized the UK’s first lottery in 1565. The Queen thought it would be an easier way to collect money for public interests. Each ticket cost ten shillings, and the prizes included cash, plates, tapestries, and linens. The lottery distributed 10,00 rewards, and the Queen picked the winning balls.

  • Different rulers, different ideas

    In ancient Rome, Augustus Caesar organized lotteries to repair the capital city of Rome. He gave various precious items as prizes. On the other hand, Emperor Nero used lotteries to dispose of the spoils of war, including groups of enslaved people, villas in Capri, silver, gold, and jewelry.

  • One payout, 110 winners of the second prize

    Powerball has a fortune cookie payout. In the draw on March 30, 2005, 110 ticket holders won the second prize of $19.4 million. The winners were divided into two groups. The first group of 89 winners each received $100,000. The other 21 players (selected by Power Play) each received $500,000.

FAQs about lottery

  • Which lottery game gives the biggest prizes?

     Modern games such as the EuroMillions, Mega Millions, and Powerball are the top lottery games that provide the biggest jackpots today. Powerball and Mega Millions are lotteries in the U.S. Mega Millions and EuroMillions are played in the UK, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Ireland, France, Belgium, and Austria.

  • Who invented the lotto/lottery?

    There are two accounts, and the truth depends on which account you are reading. Most of the available records state that the Chinese invented the lottery some 2.000 years ago. But some documents claim that the lotto originated from the ancient Roman Empire, where the lottery was a form of entertainment for the nobles.

  • Who was the solo winner of the largest lottery prize to date?

     The highest lottery winner on record who took home the jackpot of US$768.4 million today was Manuel Franco of Wisconsin, who used to be an employee at Target. He bought his Powerball ticket in March 2019 in New Berlin for an April 2019 draw. Franco was 24 years old when he won the jackpot.

  • What are the most popular lottery games?

     Today, the most popular among the various lottery games are EuroMillions of Europe, Mega Millions (U.S.), Cash4Life (U.S.), British National Lottery (UK), Spain’s BonoLoto, Italy’s SuperEnalotto, and Powerball of the U.S. Also popular are Mega Sena of Brazil and Canada’s Lotto 6/49.

  • What is the oldest lottery that still runs today?

     The oldest lottery in the world that continues to operate today is the Staastsloterij, a Dutch state-owned lottery. It was established in 1726, and the lottery has given out more than 188 million euros to charity. It became officially part of the Dutch National Lottery in 2016.

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