A brief global history of the lottery

The history of the lottery is a fascinating one
Photo by CC user Ronshelley on English Wikipedia

If you have ever gone to play mega millions, and then wondered to yourself how and when all this madness began, you are not alone.

The truth of the matter is that the lottery has been around for thousands of years. Settle in for a solid 5 minute read: you’re about to learn a few facts that will astound you and satisfy your curiosity.


History of the lottery began over 2,000 years ago in ancient China. During the Han Dynasty in the 2nd Century BC, the government administration issued slips that resembled modern day Keno tickets. It was believed that they were used as a source of funding for the Great Wall of China.

The philosophical roots behind the lottery go back even further. The Chinese Book of Songs (an ancient publication that is over 2,500 years old), the Iliad (written during the time of the Greeks), and anthropological evidence from the time of the Celts all make references to drawing lots to decide important matters.

Additionally, dinner party guests during the Roman Empire would receive tickets upon entry that made them eligible to receive prizes (effectively making these giveaways the first raffles in history). Indeed, the annals of ancient history are filled with anecdotes that laid the foundation for the development of modern day lotteries.

Holland and Belgium: home to the first verifiable lottery ticket sales

While it is suspected that the first lottery tickets were probably issued during the Han Dynasty in China as previously mentioned, the first verifiable lottery ticket sale occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe.

During the fifteenth century, various towns in Belgium and the Netherlands came up with a scheme involving the sale of game of chance tickets in order to fund the construction of defensive walls and to help alleviate poverty.

The towns of Ghent, Bruges, and Utrecht are all on record as offering these promotions, effectively making them the birthplace of the modern lottery ticket.

From the days of old to the present: a summary of developments

From that point on, nation states, provinces, states and cities conducted lottery experiments of their own. In Spain, the establishment of the Sorteo de Navidad, or the Spanish Christmas Lottery in 1892 began the tradition of what is now considered to be the world’s longest-running lottery draw.

In America, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton used lottery draws before and during the Revolutionary War to fund defense and war efforts.

And just this year, the largest jackpot of all time was awarded on January 13th. Three people shared 1.6 billion US Dollars before taxes after winning the Powerball lottery.