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A lottery is a form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers for a prize. Lotteries are outlawed by some governments, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a national or state lottery. It is common to find some degree of regulation of lottery by governments; the most common regulation is prohibition of sale to minors, and vendors must be licensed to sell lottery tickets. Though lotteries were common in the United States and some other countries during the 19th century, by the beginning of the 20th century, most forms of gambling, including lotteries and sweepstakes, were illegal in the U.S. and most of Europe as well as many other countries. This remained so until well after World War II. In the 1960s casinos and lotteries began to re-appear throughout the world as a means for governments to raise revenue without raising taxes.
Lotteries come in many formats. For example, the prize can be a fixed amount of cash or goods. In this format there is risk to the organizer if insufficient tickets are sold. More commonly the prize fund will be a fixed percentage of the receipts. A popular form of this is the “50–50” draw where the organizers promise that the prize will be 50% of the revenue. Many recent lotteries allow purchasers to select the numbers on the lottery ticket, resulting in the possibility of multiple winners.
The first recorded signs of a lottery are keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. These lotteries are believed to have helped to finance major government projects like the Great Wall of China. From the Chinese “The Book of Songs” (2nd millennium BC.) comes a reference to a game of chance as “the drawing of wood”, which in context appears to describe the drawing of lots.
From the Celtic era, the Cornish words “teulel pren” translates into “to throw wood” and means “to draw lots”.
The Iliad of Homer refers to lots being placed into Agamemnon’s helmet to determine who would fight Hector.
The first known European lotteries were held during the Roman Empire, mainly as an amusement at dinner parties. Each guest would receive a ticket, and prizes would often consist of fancy items such as dinnerware. Every ticket holder would be assured of winning something. This type of lottery, however, was no more than the distribution of gifts by wealthy noblemen during the Saturnalian revelries. The earliest records of a lottery offering tickets for sale is the lottery organized by Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. The funds were for repairs in the City of Rome, and the winners were given prizes in the form of articles of unequal value.
The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Various towns held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications, and to help the poor. The town records of Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges indicate that lotteries may be even older. A record dated 9 May 1445 at L’Ecluse refers to raising funds to build walls and town fortifications, with a lottery of 4,304 tickets and total prize money of 1737 florins (worth about $170 thousand in 2014 US dollars). In the 17th century it was quite usual in the Netherlands to organize lotteries to collect money for the poor or in order to raise funds for all kinds of public usages. The lotteries proved very popular and were hailed as a painless form of taxation. The Dutch state-owned Staatsloterij is the oldest running lottery. The English word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun “lot” meaning “fate”.
The first recorded Italian lottery was held on 9 January 1449 in Milan organized by the Golden Ambrosian Republic to finance the war against the Republic of Venice.
However, it was in Genoa that Lotto became very popular. People used to bet on the name of Great Council members, who were drawn by chance, five out of ninety candidates every six months . This kind of gambling was called Lotto or Semenaiu. When people wanted to bet more frequently than twice a year, they began to substitute the candidates names with numbers and modern lotto was born, to which both modern legal lotteries and the illegal Numbers game can trace their ancestry.
lthough the English probably first experimented with raffles and similar games of chance, the first recorded official lottery was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, in the year 1566, and was drawn in 1569. This lottery was designed to raise money for the “reparation of the havens and strength of the Realme, and towardes such other publique good workes”. Each ticket holder won a prize, and the total value of the prizes equalled the money raised. Prizes were in the form of silver plate and other valuable commodities. The lottery was promoted by scrolls posted throughout the country showing sketches of the prizes.
Thus, the lottery money received was an interest free loan to the government during the three years that the tickets (‘withou