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Who Really Wins the Lottery

Updated on August 9, 2017

The Lottery

To Dream of Winning the Lottery

The lure of winning the lottery, the appeal of wealth, and the desire for financial freedom compel people to stand in long lines in hopes of a dream. But the real winner in a lottery is the government. The history of the lottery goes a long way back in time. It has been a successful practice even in ancient civilizations.

Lottery in Ancient Times

According to the Smithsonian, there is evidence from The Han Dynasty in China, that they used the lottery to raise money to build The Great Wall of China. Approximately 200 BCE, Chinese officials, created an early form of KENO. Pidgeons would carry the results from village to village, and the game was called “The White Pidgeon”, game for the birds. The players chose a series of characters or numbers, and received a prize if what they picked came up in a random drawing. It is believed thislottery, which was so popular, raised funds for the military and public works projects and may have been used to help finance part of the Great Wall of China.

Augustus Caesar, adopted son of Julius Caesar, created a lottery similar to what we have today. In Ancient Rome the roads were in need of repair, but the Roman citizens were already heavily taxed. In order to avoid public unrest, Caesar developed a lottery to raise revenue to fix public projects. The lottery made Augustus Caesar very popular.

The Lottery in Italy

On February 18, 1522, in Venice, the first recorded Italian lottery took place. Geronimo Bambarara, a used clothes merchant in the Rialto district, set up a lottery where people could win carpets, silk, wool, and other wares, and even horses in exchange for a small sum of money. Throngs of people gathered to play, causing work to come to a standstill.

In 1530, it is believed Florence Italy held its first lottery. By the next week Venetian authorities controlled the crowds by putting in new ordinances, which allowed only lotteries that were sanctioned by magistrates. The initial motivation was to prevent fraud, but by February 28th 1522, prohibition on all private lotteries was decreed. The state recognized the lottery as an easy source of revenue. The lottery helped build the well known Rialto Bridge in Venice. The Venetian government was in great need of funds to cover the cost of its wars. It used the lottery, and imposed taxes on winnings. At first prizes were purely money and valuables. Over time, government positions were raffled off too. Some of these positions included the right to collect tolls, or duty on wine. The government even offered up parcels of desirable land.

In 1576 the Doge of Genoa (Chief Magistrate) named Andrea Doria, changed a rule to the government positions. Every year the five or ten members of the ruling colleges would be replaced by 5 men who would be selected by drawing 5 balls from a total of 120 balls. Each ball represented the number of candidates who wanted the position. Betting on who would win became very popular. This betting was the forerunner of what is now the modern lottery. At the time betting was done and run privately. As the government' saw the profitability and the possibility for raising public revenue, the state took the betting over in 1643. Very similar lotteries began in 1665 in Milan Venice and Naples. The Church made many attempts to stop the lottery in Rome. The Popes considered the lottery sinful and threatened the people who played with excommunication.

The Appeal of Winning

The History of the Lottery

In 1597, Queen Elizabeth I decided to hold a lottery instead of taxing the English citizens when the country needed funding to improve the Royal British Fleet and rebuild their ports. The first recorded lottery in England was held in 1569 to fund the public works.

In the 1700s, France created a lottery after their bond market collapsed. Voltaire and his a friend, Charles Marie de la Condamine made a fortune on the miscalculations of the French government. They discovered a mathematical flaw in the program and purchased large quantities of the tickets, and become owners of government bonds.The government eventually caught on, but Voltaire had made enough on his winnings to live comfortably while he pursued philosophy. The lottery funded churches, hospitals, military academies, Universities and needs for the poor. The games were very popular and the profitsso large, that in 1776 King Louis XVI started a new National Lottery which continued until 1836, except for a brief period during the French Revolution. In 1836 the lottery was abolished for exploiting the poor. In the 1930s the French lottery began again.

In 1763, Spain held a lottery to fund its Napoleanic War. In 1812, to help fund the Spanish War of Independence, Spain held another lottery. For over 200 years, Spain holds the El Gordo (which means the fat one) lottery on Dec 22 and donates part of the money to charities like The Red Cross, or during the depression, to people in need.

The Lottery and Colonial America

King James I, in the 1700s held a lottery to finance the privately-held Virginia Company of London’s expedition to the new world Tthe proceeds were used to create Jamestown, which was the first English colony in the New World. During the Revolutionary War, The Contintental Congress allowed a national lottery in order to raise cash to fight the British. General George Washington bought the first ticket. The lottery didn't meet its quota of $10 million dollars, but the individual colonies did well enough to finance their militia with the lotteries. Massachusetts profited $750,000 from the lottery, which provided enough bonuses for the new volunteers to fight the Revolutionary War.

In 1747, Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery in Philadelphia to raise money. It was so popular, he was able to buy a cannon to protect Philadelphia. In 1777, George Washington ran a lottery to build a road through the Allegheny Mountains in the area of Hot Springs, Virginia. The lottery was not profitable because there were so many lotteries at the time. Each of the tickets were signed by George Washington and became collector’s items, selling in 2006 for $13,500.

Faneuil Hall was built in 1742 as gift by Peter Fanueil, a wealthy merchant, as a gift to the city of Boston, Mass. It became even more famous during the Revolutionary War, as a meeting place and today is known, as the Cradle of Liberty. But none of this would be part of history, if it weren’t for the lottery. In 1761, a fire leveled the building. John Hancock helped to put together a lottery to reconstruct the building. In the early days of the United States, many localities had trouble collecting taxes. The bonds they issued were not profitable, so many communities relied on lotteries to pay for public needs. In Pennsylvania, the lottery paid for canals. In Kentucky, the lottery paid for aquifers. In Connecticut, the lottery paid for bridges. In St.Louis and Detroit they bought fire fighting equipment.

Jefferson had always been a big advocate of lotteries, believing it was a tax upon the willing. Near the end of Thomas Jefferson’s life he was deeply in debt. Jefferson asked and received permission from the Virginia legislature to allow him to run a personal Lottery with his assets of land and valuables as prizes. He died before the lottery was held and his possessions were sold in an estate sale.

To Be a Winner

National Lotteries

In the 1700s, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, and William and Mary College used the lottery to raise money for university buildings, campuses, and dormitories.

In 1823, Congress approved a Grand National Lottery with $100,000 jackpot. The proceeds of the lottery were to be put towards restoring and expanding Washington D.C. However, after the winners were drawn, the broker who was contracted to conduct the lottery, ran away with all the proceeds and was never seen again.The grand prize winner sued and the United States Supreme Court concluded that the federal government had to pay the grand prize winner his due winnings.

Near the end of the Civil War, the Lousiana State Lottery Company, a privately owned company, sold lottery tickets through mail order across the country. The company would bribe politicians and judges to ensure it was the only legal lottery in the U.S. After 25 years Congress banned lottery tickets across state lines. Unable to generate funds, In 1913, the U.S. government set up an income tax to earn revenue that is still in use today.

. Unable to generate funds, In 1913, the U.S. government set up an income tax to earn revenue that is still in use today.

Winning Millions of Dollars in Today's Lottery

The modern lottery we have today, started in 1963 and spread to 44 states. These lotteries were created as an alternative to increased state taxes. Most lottery funds pay for education.

The odds of winning the lottery are astronomical, yet we buy into the idea, that we may just be the exception to the rule and be that big winner. It is irrational thinking, that we may be the one who gets that jackpot, but it is tempting to believe that we might be.

If you play the lottery, best of luck. If you win, let me know. If you don’t, be comforted you have been in good company for centuries.

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    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 months ago

      Hahaha the zero makes a difference but at least you won

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I'm sorry. I made a mistake and put in an extra zero. I only won $800. After that I started to play a little more often hoping to do that (or better) again. Soon thereafter I stopped completely. Quit while your ahead.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 months ago

      Hi Catherine,

      That is pretty good that you won $8,000. Was it an instant lottery or a pick a number lottery? I hardly ever play and the most I ever won is $20.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 6 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I do buy a ticket once in a while just for the fun of imagining that I might win. I did once win about $8000 and so I think I have broken even over 50 years of occasional purchases. I almost never buy a ticket anymore.