The History of the Lottery


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the lottery – an organized game in which people purchase tickets to win a prize. Prizes can range from cash to sports team draft picks. In the case of the NBA, the lottery determines the first pick for each of its 14 teams. The concept of the lottery is as old as humanity itself. It’s been used in ancient times to determine property ownership and other rights, as well as for sporting events and other competitions. The word “lottery” itself is thought to have originated in the Middle Dutch language loterie (a calque on Middle French loterie).

Many state governments sponsor lotteries to raise money for public projects. These lotteries are a form of gambling, with players buying tickets for future drawings that may be weeks or months away. The history of these lotteries has been marked by a cycle of expansion and contraction, as government officials try to balance the competing goals of controlling the activity and raising revenue.

Lottery revenues typically expand dramatically in the first years after a lottery’s introduction, then level off and sometimes decline. In an anti-tax era, however, politicians find it hard to give up a source of income, so they try to increase revenues by introducing new games and by increasing the frequency of drawing times. This has led to a proliferation of games and the introduction of instant prizes, such as scratch-off tickets.