History of the Lottery


The Lottery is a gambling arrangement in which tokens (usually tickets) are sold and the winners selected by chance. Generally the prize is a sum of money but it may also be goods or services. Some governments outlaw lotteries while others endorse them and organize a state or national lottery. Some governments regulate the lotteries that they sponsor and limit how much people can win.

In the 15th century, the first European lotteries appeared in Burgundy and Flanders where towns sought funds to fortify their defenses or help the poor. These were sometimes called venturas and were modeled on the Genoa lottery. In the 17th century, private and public lotteries were common in colonial America where they were used to raise funds for a variety of purposes, including building colleges, roads, canals, bridges, churches, and other public buildings. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery to buy cannons for the defense of Philadelphia. George Washington participated in a lottery to raise money for the “Mountain Road Expedition” in 1768. Lotteries were also used to purchase slaves and land.

Lottery proceeds were used to found many American colleges, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and King’s College in Boston. In addition, the lottery helped finance the Continental Congress’s expedition against Canada. Lotteries are still popular today, but have lost some of their glamour. In the United States, there are state-run lotteries, federally sponsored Mega Millions and Powerball, and privately run games such as California Dreamin’ and Cashman’s.