The History of Lotteries


The practice of dividing property by lot is a centuries-old one. In the Old Testament, Moses is instructed to make a census of the people of Israel and divide their land by lot. The practice of holding lotteries dates back to the Roman emperors, who used them to distribute slaves and property. In ancient Rome, the practice of holding lotteries was common as a means to sell products and properties. In 1832, there were 420 lotteries in eight states.

It is difficult to date the earliest recorded lotteries, but they do exist. Early Chinese towns held public lotteries to raise funds for important town projects, such as fortifications. Records from the 14th century indicate that the first known lottery took place in L’Ecluse, where a town council held a lottery to raise funds for walls and fortifications. In a record dated 9 May 1445, the municipality mentioned a lottery of 4,304 tickets, which was worth about US$170,000 in 2014.

The first lottery records date back to the Middle Ages. It was in the Low Countries that the concept of a lottery was introduced. In fact, many Low Countries towns conducted public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications, or even for the poor. Some towns have even claimed that the practice of lotteries is as old as the Renaissance. In a 1445 record of L’Ecluse, the town council mentions a public lottery that raised 4304 florins, which is equivalent to over US$170,000 in 2014.