The History of the Lottery

A lottery is a process that gives people chances to win prizes, such as money or property. People buy tickets, and the winners are chosen by random drawing. In the past, some governments used lotteries to raise money for public purposes.

In the United States, some state and local governments have a lottery. Some states have a national lottery, and some states hold local lotteries. People can also play the lottery on the Internet.

The first European lotteries appear in the 1500s, with towns attempting to raise money for defense or to aid poor people. Francis I of France allowed a public lottery in several cities in the 1600s. The word lottery is probably derived from Middle Dutch loterie, via French lot, from Frankish hlot “a share, reward” (compare Old Frisian hlot), and figuratively from Latin lotto “action of drawing lots.”

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, public lotteries were popular as an alternative to taxes. They helped fund a wide range of public works, including roads and bridges, and provided funds for hundreds of schools and colleges in the American colonies. Among the early supporters were Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to use a lottery to retire his debts, and Benjamin Franklin, who held a lottery to buy cannons for Philadelphia. Many argued that the popularity of lotteries proved they were a painless way to collect public revenues. However, by the 1960s, the lottery’s role as a low-cost source of government revenue was being eroded.