The History of the Lottery


The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights is attested in ancient documents. Lotteries were common in the Roman Empire—Nero, for example, loved them—and they are also recorded in the Bible, where they were used to determine everything from who gets Jesus’ clothes after his crucifixion to who will get the kingly crown.

During colonial America, private and public lotteries helped finance a wide range of ventures. They funded colleges, roads, canals, and other public works projects. In addition, private and religious institutions often sponsored lotteries to raise money. One early success story was the Academy Lottery, which provided funds for Princeton and Columbia Universities.

In the 1960s, New Hampshire started a state lottery, and it was quickly followed by states in the Northeast and the Rust Belt. The reason for this growth pattern was that the lottery was seen as a way to meet budgetary needs without enraging an increasingly anti-tax electorate.

State lotteries are usually regulated by law, and a special lottery commission is delegated the responsibility of establishing rules and regulations for the lottery. In addition to regulating the lottery, these commissions also select and train lottery retailers, market the games, pay winning tickets, and assist players.

In a lottery, numbers are drawn randomly and participants win prizes when their numbers are matched with the winning ones. The winning numbers are typically those that are most frequently selected by lottery participants, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant dates. For example, a woman who won the Mega Millions jackpot in 2016 had a birthday and a wedding anniversary as her lucky numbers.