History of the Lottery

info Dec 17, 2023

Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn for prizes. The term is probably derived from the Dutch noun lottere, meaning “to cast lots,” and may be a calque of Middle Dutch loterie, meaning “action of casting lots.” The earliest state-sponsored lotteries were in the Low Countries in the first half of the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and helping the poor.

In America, early lotteries were largely funded by grants from private individuals or religious organizations. Lotteries were also popular in the colonial era, and the Continental Congress even sponsored one to fund cannons for Philadelphia’s defense against the British invasion. Later, in the nineteenth century, a lottery would be used to help pay for everything from civil defense to the construction of churches. Cohen argues that the modern incarnation of lotteries began when growing awareness of the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. Amid soaring population and inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War, state governments found it difficult to balance their budgets without either increasing taxes or cutting services.

Lotteries offered an alternative source of revenue and, according to Cohen, enjoyed broad public support. Despite the negative social and moral implications of gambling, it was difficult for many people to resist the allure of the big jackpot. In order to win the prize, participants were required to purchase a ticket and then wait to see if their numbers were drawn. The winning tickets were typically sold in stores, where patrons could check them against a list to confirm their eligibility.