Lottery History

During the early colonial period in America, lotteries played an important role in funding various projects, including paving streets and building wharves. Lottery proceeds also helped finance buildings at Harvard and Yale. In fact, George Washington himself sponsored a lottery in 1768 to raise money for a road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The practice of making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long history, including dozens of references in the Bible. Lotteries first came to prominence in the modern sense of the word in the 15th century, when public lotteries were introduced in the Low Countries. The earliest recorded lottery to offer tickets for sale and prizes in the form of cash was held in 1466 in Bruges, and was intended to help the poor.

State lotteries typically begin by establishing a state monopoly or licensing private promoters; they start with a modest number of relatively simple games, and revenues expand quickly. But over time revenues plateau and may even decline, as the public grows bored with the available options. To overcome this problem, lotteries rely on innovation to maintain or increase revenues.

Lotteries are a popular way to raise money for public projects, and have a broad base of support from both the general population and specific constituencies such as convenience store operators (the most common vendors); lottery suppliers (whose heavy contributions to state political campaigns are reported regularly); teachers (in states where lotteries provide a significant share of school funding); etc. Studies have shown that a key element in the popularity of lotteries is the degree to which they are perceived to benefit a particular public good, such as education.