The History of the Lottery


The lottery was first introduced in New York State in 1967 and generated $53.6 million in its first year. This popularity encouraged residents of neighboring states to purchase lottery tickets, and twelve other states followed suit by the end of the decade. Its success helped raise money for public works without increasing taxes, and it appealed to a Catholic population that wasn’t generally against gambling. This article examines some of the history of the lottery and the many ways it has been embraced across the United States.

The practice of drawing lots to determine ownership of property dates back to ancient times. The Old Testament instructs Moses to take a census of the people of Israel and to divide their land by lot. It is also known to be a common practice in Europe. In the United States, lottery funding first became tied to the government. King James I of England commissioned a lottery to provide funds for the colony of Jamestown, Virginia. From then on, public and private organizations used lotteries to raise funds for towns, wars, colleges, and public-works projects.

Almost 186,000 lottery retailers are listed on the NASPL Web site. New York, Texas, and California are the states with the most retailers. Three-fourths of the retailers also provide online lottery services. Of the remaining lottery retailers, approximately half are convenience stores. Other outlets include nonprofit organizations, service stations, restaurants, newsstands, and bars. It’s worth noting that many states don’t limit the number of lottery retailers.