The History of the Lottery


The first recorded lotteries with money prizes were held in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century. These public lotteries were held by various towns and cities in order to raise funds for public works and fortifications. The lottery spread rapidly in the Northeast due to the need to fund public works and the large Catholic population that was tolerant of gambling activities. Several other states soon followed. In the late 1800s, Texas and New Mexico introduced their own lotteries.

The opponents of the lottery use economic arguments to support their cause. The lotteries contribute only a small portion of the state’s revenue, so they have a limited effect on state programs. They also argue that they unfairly target people in lower income brackets, whose incomes are too low to afford gambling.

The United States operates forty state lotteries. According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL), U.S. lottery sales topped $56.4 billion during FY 2006, up from $52.6 billion in FY 2005. Sales increased steadily between 1998 and 2003. As of August 2004, the U.S. had forty-seven state lotteries, with New York, Massachusetts, and Florida accounting for more than half of total lottery sales.

However, lottery games are ripe for fraud. There are lottery “systems” that claim to increase the odds of winning, but these are mostly based on a false understanding of probability. Nonetheless, legal lottery-related products must make it clear that they cannot guarantee jackpots.