The First Ever Lotteries

The First Ever Lotteries

In the 21st Century it’s very hard to imagine a world without lotteries. For millions of people around the globe, one or two nights a week would be ever so slightly less enjoyable and exciting. Countless good causes would have to go without the valuable contribution that many lotteries make to their funds, and a number of world governments would find themselves lacking a valuable income stream for the public coffers. How did we ever make do without lotteries?

Starting at the Great Wall of China…

It turns out that humanity in its modern form never really did! The lottery story seems to have begun in China, where keno slips dating from as far back as 200BC have been discovered, providing the oldest physical evidence of lottery gaming. It is believed that the proceeds raised through games of this kind were used by the government to contribute towards major projects such as the construction of the Great Wall of China! The appearance of a lottery-like game involving the drawing of wooden lots in the historical Chinese text ‘The Book of Songs’, which dates from the second millennium BC indicates that the roots of lottery gaming go far deeper still. The next time you play a line on a lottery game, just think… you’re carrying on a 4,000 year old tradition!

Arrival in Europe

Most historians believe that lottery games first arrived in Europe during the Roman Empire, primarily as a parlour game at upper class dinner parties. The earliest public, ticketed lottery on record took place during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, who used the funds raised to make repairs in the City of Rome. The prizes on offer included items of home-ware.

Playing for money

The first recorded lotteries offering cash prizes took place in the Low Countries during the 15th Century, over 1600 years after those keno slips helped build the Great Wall of China. Towns including Ghent, Utrecht and Bruges held these lotteries to raise money for the construction of fortifications and city walls, and to help the poor; a model which is strikingly similar to that used by many governments in the present day.

However flashy and modern the branding of today’s biggest lottos may be, they’re the descendents of some truly ancient, public-spirited ancestors. For thousands of years people all over the world have been keeping their fingers crossed that their lucky numbers might come up, and they’ve done an extraordinary amount of good in the process!