The History of the Lottery


The lottery is a game of chance in which numbers or symbols are drawn at random and winning participants receive prizes, typically money. The lottery is popular with the public and has been a major source of revenue for state governments in many countries. Lotteries are often perceived as a way for citizens to voluntarily spend their money in order to support public services, but critics argue that the proceeds of the lottery can be used to promote gambling and have detrimental social consequences.

There are several elements common to all lotteries: a pool or collection of tickets and their counterfoils; a drawing procedure (either a manual process, such as shaking or tossing, or an automatic computer-based one) to select winners; some means of recording the identity and amount staked by each betor; and a method for collecting, pooling, and distributing the ticket sales receipts and winning numbers. In the past, this was often done through a network of agents who collect and pass tickets up to lottery officials until they are “banked.” Today, most lotteries use computers for these functions.

The earliest recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries in the 15th century, where towns used them to raise funds for building town walls and for helping the poor. They became very popular and were hailed as a painless form of taxation. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they were also widely used by states for all or a portion of the cost of major projects, such as building the British Museum, the repair of bridges, and public buildings in American colonies.