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 romp through the past to uncover the origins of America’s favorite pastime.

The Beginning of the Lottery

Lottery-style games have been around for a long time. They are popular all around the world—including some very unusual versions.

Different forms of lottery games make an appearance in the Bible, the Koran, 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.

The Use of Lottery Tickets

In Italy, a lottery game called bianca carta was popular in the 15th century. 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

In Flanders, in 1526, unlicensed lotteries were outlawed. The concept that we now know as state lotteries started to develop in the 1560s. 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

In the 16th century, Guena used a lottery draw to fill 90 senator spots. Eventually the public began betting on the drawing outcomes, which was the start of “the Lotto.”

The names of the senators were replaced by lottery numbers: 1 through 90. Sounds similar to the Powerball numbers we have 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.

Towards State Projects

Starting in 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.

The First New York Lotteries

Lotteries came to America with European settlers. The first official 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. To prevent having to raise 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 started to spring up all across the U.S. throughout the 1980s.

Lotteries and Technology

Lottery games like Powerball and Mega Millions are now moving towards a digital future. Apps like AutoLotto allow you to play the lottery right on your smartphone. Finally, the lottery is able to catch 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 AutoLotto, we have some great new features coming, so stay tuned! In the meantime, try out the app and sign up for a free Powerball ticket. Or, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with the latest updates.

Photo credit: Akos Nagy /

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