A Guide to Lottery Terminology

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Have you ever wondered where we get words like ‘jackpot’ and ‘rollover’? We just did, so we decided to do a little research and find out more about the words behind our favourite game. Here’s some of the most interesting info we find, gathered together in our short guide to lottery terminology.


The term ‘rollover’, as used in lotteries, has far more recent roots than ‘jackpot’. It stems from the field of economics, where the verb ‘rollover’ has been used to describe the act of reinvesting capital since the late 1950s. Lotteries later took the word and used it to describe their own process of reinvesting money into the next draw when nobody manages to hit the jackpot. We don’t think there could be a neater fit for lotteries than the word ‘rollover’ – just think of those rolling lottery balls!


The word ‘syndicate’ has a pretty modern feel to it,  but it has actually been around for centuries. ‘Syndicate’ has been used in English to describe groups of officials since the 1620s, and we’ve been using it in the looser sense of a group of people working together towards a commercial goal since 1865.

It’s appropriate that lottery syndicates are referred to in language that’s normally reserved for business – serious syndicates are so likely to win prizes on a regular basis that they are essentially more like businesses than one off bets.


Of course, no guide to lottery terminology would be complete without a definition of the word ‘lottery’!

The history of lotteries goes back one heck of a long time – it dates back in one form or another as far as around 5,000 B.C., when a similar game known as Keno was played by the Ancient Chinese. The English word “lottery” started appearing around the 1560s – an adaptation of the Italian word ‘lotteria’, which itself was adapted from the Germanic word “lotto”, which meant a lot, portion or share. It seems that lotteries have always been forging connections around Europe – PlayEuroLotto is simply carrying on the tradition.


Like many terms related to the world of games and betting, ‘jackpot’ originated at the green felt of the poker table. The first recorded uses of ‘jackpot’ by poker players appear in the late 1800s, when it was used to refer to antes that could begin when none of the players were holding two jacks or better in their hand. The more familiar sense of ‘jackpot’ started to be used around the 1930s, when the word first appeared on slot machines and ‘hitting the jackpot’ became a byword for winning the top prize. Jackpots have grown a lot bigger since those days – in January 2016 the Powerball lottery payed out a prize worth over one billion euros to three winning players in the biggest jackpot win of all time.


There have always been lucky and unlucky people in the world – but we’ve only had the word ‘luck’ to describe their characteristics since around the year 1500, when the word started being used to describe fortunes, good or bad.

It is thought that the word ‘luck’ may have been formed from the Middle Dutch word ‘luc’, which meant “happiness or good fortune”.

‘Luck’ has quite naturally come to be strongly associated with lotteries and other games. The term “lucky break” has been used to describe a strong opening shot in billiards and similar games since late Victorian times.


The most fundamental word in our list is also easily the most ancient. Used in closely related forms since sometime around the year 1300, ‘Number’ can be traced back to the Latin word ‘numerus’, meaning a number or quantity.

Of course, if the Latin-speaking Ancient Romans had played a lottery like ours (and there’s some evidence to say they did), the numbers would have looked like this: I, II, III, IV, V, and so on.


Here’s an interesting one! The word ‘win’ was formed around the year 1300, combining the meanings of the Old English words ‘winnan’ (“to labor, toil, struggle for, work at, strive, fight”) and ‘gewinnan’ (“to gain or succeed by struggling, conquer, obtain”).

People don’t tend to associate winning so closely with struggling and fighting these days, but for most winners the road to success is long, with many-a winding turn! Don’t give up if you don’t win a jackpot right away – these things take time and effort.


We get the word ‘prize’ from the Old French word ‘pris’, which can refer to a price, value or reward. The ‘z’ didn’t get added into the word till the late sixteenth century.