History of the Lottery


Throughout history, many states have operated lotteries. Some states began the lottery in 1890, including California, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, and Washington state. Others started the lottery in the 1970s, while others have only recently done so. For example, in the early years of the lottery’s existence, sales in Missouri were down nearly 10% and in Delaware, sales decreased almost 8%. Those numbers are not surprising, considering the fact that many lottery outlets are located in high-income neighborhoods.

The first lotteries began in colonial America. The Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery in 1776 to help finance the American Revolution. It was eventually abandoned, though. After the war, smaller public lotteries were started, which served as voluntary taxes and built many of the first American colleges. Similarly, private lotteries were widely used in England and the United States, with Harvard and Yale gaining state-sanctioned lottery licenses in the 1760s to raise money for an expedition against Canada.

The first recorded lotteries offered money prizes. Low-country towns held public lotteries to raise funds for defense and help the poor. These lotteries may have been as old as the 1500s, as French king Francis I permitted them in several cities from 1520 to 1539. Similarly, the Italian city-state of Modena held its first lottery under the d’Este family in 1445. It also had the first European public lottery, known as ventura.

The profits of state lotteries were $17.1 billion in FY 2006, and each state allocates them to different programs. In fact, in the years since 1967, a total of $234.1 billion has been allocated to various programs and beneficiaries. New York, for instance, has given the largest amount to education, accounting for almost 30% of its lottery profits. California and New Jersey are not far behind. Many municipalities are now adopting this practice, generating more stable and conscientious government revenue.

In addition to its cultural significance, the lottery is a global phenomenon, operating on every continent except Antarctica. It is also a legal activity in forty states and enjoys unprecedented popularity in the gambling world. Though lotteries are perceived as harmless entertainment by many, some opponents consider them a problem. Those opposed to the lottery use moral or religious grounds. They may even abhor state-sponsored lotteries. The most common criticisms, however, are based on insufficient prize money, too much advertising, and underage gambling.

While many critics of the lottery have raised concerns over its social impact, the numbers still bear out the advantages for state lotteries. The money raised from these activities contributes to public education and social services, and responsible lottery players can make a difference in the lives of many people. In addition to raising much-needed funds, the lottery also provides cheap entertainment to people who choose to participate. However, a recent Powerball jackpot reached $1.6 billion, causing some to question the need for government intervention.