The History of the Lottery

The practice of drawing numbers from a hat for big prizes or dividing land by lot dates back to ancient times. The Old Testament commands Moses to take a census of the people of Israel and divide the land among them by lot. The lottery became popular during the Middle Ages and was used by Roman emperors to distribute property and slaves. In the late 1700s, the French emperor Louis XIV held a lottery to choose the top picks in the NBA draft. While the odds of winning were extremely high, this new game was reopened in the aftermath of World War II.


The earliest known lottery was in the Netherlands during the 17th century. The Netherlands’s Staatsloterij was the first to operate, raising money for the poor. The Dutch government was pleased with the popularity of the lottery, and it was regarded as a painless tax. The word “lottery” comes from the Dutch noun “lot”, meaning fate. The modern definition of a lottery is a game of chance where the winner must pay a fee to enter a drawing.

The earliest known lottery tickets were sold to raise money for the poor in Low Countries towns. These public lotteries were thought to be a great way to raise money for the city’s fortifications. The practice was so popular that it spread to other countries, and in fact, the earliest recorded lotteries may have been as early as 1445. According to a record from L’Ecluse, a town in Belgium, the first recorded lotteries were held in 1445. It mentions a lottery of 4,304 tickets and a prize of 40,000 florins, which is about $170,000 today.