The origins of the lottery around the world

Lotteries come in many different formats, with some reaching magnificent record-breaking jackpot amounts, but have you ever wondered where they originated? This popular game hasn’t always been all about winning big. This article will deep-dive into where lotteries come from and shed some light on this exciting life-changing game’s origins across the world.

Keno and the Han Dynasty

Historians believe the first signs of lottery date back to the Han Dynasty in 187 BC. The lottery back in those days was “keno slips” and were developed to support government projects that needed to be completed. The Chinese played the game with sheets of paper which had the first 80 characters of their Thousand Character Classic (a poem used to teach children Chinese characters) on it. These characters were used as we would use our modern day ball-or-number sets. Carrier pigeons would be sent to outlying villages to announce draw results which is where the Chinese name for the game báigē piào came from. It literally translates into white dove ticket. It is said that these games even funded the construction of the Great Wall of China. Many ancient Chinese books also reference games of chance as “ the drawing of wood” which is a nod to drawing lots.

The origins of the lottery around the world

European origins

If you’re a fan of European favourites, EuroMillions and EuroJackpot, you may be interested to know that the first known European lotteries were held during the Roman Empire as entertainment at dinner parties. Dinner party guests would be handed individual tickets which would entitle them to win various prizes. Although this way of “play” ensured everyone would win something, it was a game used to show off the wealth of the noble class rather than the game of lottery as we know it today. The first organised lottery offering tickets for sale to the public was arranged by Augustus Caesar (the Roman Emperor) between 14 AD and 27 AD. He set up the lottery as a way to gather funds to repair the city of Rome. Winners won prizes of varying values.

The 1400’s saw quite a few lotteries spring up around coastal regions of northwestern Europe, with most of these lotteries established to help the poor as well as build fortifying structures.

The Italian city, Florence, held a lottery in 1530 that gave away cash prizes to its lottery winners. To get the French treasury out of its mounting debt, King Francis of France followed suit shortly after, by setting up a lottery for his people.

1567 saw England join in on all the lottery excitement, with Queen Elizabeth hosting the first lottery offering up 400,000 tickets for sale. Prizes weren’t just given out in cash but were also said to be rare porcelain China and tapestries.

The origins of the lottery around the world

America joins the lottery fun

During the colonial era roughly 392 lotteries were held over 13 colonies occupied by Americans according to newspaper ads that Neal Millikan (a historian) found. Although the lotteries of the time were great fun for players, they were mostly created to get money to help fund colonies. Some of these old lotteries were quite sophisticated and included some instant winners too.

In 1830 legislators authorised lotteries to fund schools, roads and other infrastructure projects but received quite a lot of backlash due to recurring lottery scandals. Churches also started to denounce lotteries on a moral basis, petitioning to have them banned.

From 1844 to 1859 many states had formal lottery bans in place and prohibited people from playing the lottery. The bans were due to large-scale corruption where the lotteries never paid out winnings.

Things did start looking up though when state-owned lotteries were introduced that operated with clear regulations and governance. Your favourite American giants US Powerball and Mega Millions were formed during this era in 1988 and 1996.

Now that you know the origins of lotteries around the world, we’d love to welcome you to play with us at Lotto247 today.



This post was written by
Jason L - who has written 199 articles
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