The History of the Lottery

The lottery has a long and varied history, spanning across cultures, nations, and time. First recorded in the Han Dynasty (between 205 BC and 187 BC), the lottery helped finance major government projects. It is even mentioned in the Chinese Book of Songs, where the game is called a “drawing of lots or wood.”


The history of the lottery goes back as far as the Old Testament, where God tells Moses to divide the land among his people by lot. In later centuries, lotteries were used by Roman emperors to distribute money to the poor and for a variety of public purposes. Lotteries were popular and were hailed as a way to avoid painstaking taxation. Today, the oldest continuously operating lottery dates back to 1726 in the Netherlands. The English word lottery derives from a Dutch noun meaning “fate”.


The origin of the lottery isn’t entirely clear. While the word ‘lottery’ is thought to be derived from the Dutch, the game actually dates back to over 2000 years. Ancient Chinese keno slips, dated from 205-187 BC, were the first evidence of a lotteries. These drawings were primarily for war-related purposes, although they also grew in popularity during the Roman Empire and resemble the charitable raffles we know today.

Origins in Europe

The history of lotteries in Europe is not very well known, but the French and Italian lottery are similar in origin. French lotteries first started in the 1500s, and were popular until the 17th century. The French monarch, Louis XIV, won the top prizes of one drawing, but returned the winnings to fund redistribution. In 1836, France banned lotteries, but in 1933 a new lottery was established, and the Loterie Nationale was born. After World War II, the Italian city of Genoa held its first lottery, and the French Lottery was reopened.

Origins in the U.S.

Throughout history, lotteries have been used to fund various projects and institutions. In the early U.S., the First Continental Congress held a huge lottery to fund the Revolutionary War. This lottery used a new form of money for the thirteen colonies called Continental Currency. Because of this currency’s fluctuation, it was hard to predict how much would be made. Despite its low earnings, it still managed to win the war, and was the first method used to finance the U.S. government.

Origins in India

Indian lottery history begins in the 17th century. The concept of lottery was derived from ancient Chinese games, which were played hundreds of years before Christ. This type of game, also known as keno, was played by using white pigeons to transmit results from one town to another. In the 19th century, the concept was adopted by the government in the western part of the country. This led to the creation of state-run lottery in India.

Origins in France

The first lottery was held in France in the 16th century. It was the Loterie Royale that was authorized by the edict of Chateaurenard. It was an immediate disaster, and the royal government subsequently banned the lottery. The lottery remains popular today, but it was a disaster when it first launched. While many argue that it is not a legal activity, lottery players from all walks of life are still encouraged to participate.