Akos Nagy / Shutterstock.com

How have lotteries changed since they were first introduced? What has stayed the same? Our brief history of the lottery takes a fun and informative tour through the past to uncover the origins of America’s favorite games of chance.

The Beginning

Chantel Lucas / Stocksnap.io

Lottery-style games have been around for a long time and they are popular all around the world. Various forms of lottery games make an appearance in the Bible, the Quran, Greek mythology, and ancient Japanese and Chinese histories. The Romans used lottery games to predict the future, reward their followers, and distribute gifts at parties. Jobs, political positions, and property were also distributed by lottery draws throughout history.

A popular Italian lottery game in the 15th century, bianca carta, is believed to have given birth to the lottery ticket. The name comes from the word “white” in Italian, which is in reference to the white paper tickets. In France, the Italian entourage of Caterina de Medici introduced the game as blanque.

Changing Lottery Prize Structures

The concept that we now know as state lotteries began to develop in the 1560s after unlicensed lotteries were outlawed in Flanders in 1526. Class lotteries used several levels of prizes, from most lucrative to least, and participants could buy in at multiple levels.

The Use of Lottery Numbers

source unknown

In the 16th century, Genoa used a lottery draw to fill 90 senator spots. Eventually the public began betting on the drawing outcomes, which was the start of “Lotto.” The names of the senators were replaced by lottery numbers 1 through 90. Sounds similar to the Powerball numbers we use now, doesn’t it? This “new” game was operated by bankers and then taken over by the state. A “6 out of 49” number system was first introduced in Berlin in 1952.

Funding Social Programs

August Caesar famously sold lottery tickets to fund repairs for the city of Rome. As early as 1539, France used lotteries to make up for lost capital after being at war with Spain. Lotteries were also used to fund the Hôpital Général de Paris, the king’s wedding, and the renovation of many Parisian churches. To this day, lottery funding is used in state projects across America and goes toward educational funding, among other causes.

The First New York Lotteries

La Compagnie Robinson / stocksnap.io

Lotteries came to America with European settlers. The first official U.S. lottery happened around 1746 to help pay for fortification of the city. At the end of that same year, a lottery was used to help in the construction costs of building a college. In order to prevent raising taxes to alleviate post-war debt, lotteries were used to raise money for various projects, including founding a college, repaying public debt, and building a lighthouse. Lotteries began to really catch on across the U.S. in the 1980s.

Lotteries and Technology


Lottery games like Powerball and Mega Millions are now moving towards a digital future. The Lottery.com app allows you to play the lottery right on your smartphone. Finally, the lottery is catching up to other industries that have already benefited from going digital. Technological advancements are also used to ensure that the lottery stays fair for everyone.

The Future of the Lottery

At Lottery.com, we are continuing to expand and add more games to our platform so stay tuned! In the meantime, use the app to check your paper tickets or play the Powerball, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with the latest updates.