The history of Lotteries

Unusual as it may seem to us in 2011,lotteries have actually been around since the dawn of time, even before the officially recorded birth of Christ with proof of a version of ‘Keno slips’ emerging from the Chinese Han Dynasty all the way back in 205 B.C.!

While there is no real way of ever knowing just what their purpose was way back then, if it was the same as modern day or not, palaeontologists believe that they could have been used to help finance major projects, possibly such things as the Great Wall of China.

From the Chinese "The Book of Songs" dated as far back as the second millennium B.C., there is reference made to a game of chance - the drawing of wood – that seems to indicate ‘lots’ being drawn, as in an olden day ‘lot-tery’.

Meanwhile, back in the Celtic era, information has been found in the form of Cornish words - "teulel pren" – which simply translated means…"to throw wood" or "to draw lots".

In Greek Mythology, the Iliad of Homer refers to drawing lots from Agamemnon's helmet. However, the prize for winning this particular lottery wasn’t gold or treasures, it was the honour of fighting Hector.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, their first recorded lotteries were held during the Roman Empire, and the reasoning behind them wasn’t to make anyone rich, or fund works in progress, instead they were mainly used as a form of amusement at dinner parties! Guests would be given a ticket and their prizes would come in the form of fancy items such as dinnerware. Each and every guest would receive a ticket and every ticket holder would win something.

When looking for the actual sale of tickets in a lottery type game, that honour goes to the famous Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar who organizes to give prizes of a lesser value in return for funds to help pay for repairs to the city.  Meanwhile, the first actual money prizes weren’t thought to appear until the 15th century when they were used to help strengthen cities against invaders whilst also helping the poor. However, records from Bruges and Ghent given reason to believe they held lotteries as far back as 1445, once again to raise funds for city fortifications. Records state that a total of 4304 tickets were sold with a total prize value of 1737 florins.

Staatsloterij is a state owned lottery in The Netherlands and is the oldest game still in operation with the very first draw dating all the way back to 1726. The Dutch actually organized several lotteries in the 17th century in order to raise funds for the poor or other public uses.

Meanwhile, over in England, the first lottery took three years to come to fruition. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth the first back in 1566, it was organized to raise funds to strengthen the Realm, and with the prizes equalling the amount of money raised when it was drawn in 1569, it was more like a three year interest free loan. Each ticket warranted a prize, either silver plate or another valuable commodity. To promote the event scrolls were posted throughout the country displaying the gifts on offer.

Following this the British government sold the rights to sell   tickets in future lotteries to brokers, who then hired agents and ‘runners’ to sell them to the public. As most couldn’t afford the expense of an entire ticket, brokers sold shares, resulting in notations written on individual tickets classing them as a "Sixteenth" or "Third."

Over the course of the following centuries, many different private lotteries were held while the English State Lottery ran for 130 years, from 1694-1826. Add this to the earlier years and the English lottery ran for over 250 years, only ceasing operation after constant pressure from the opposition in parliament, declared a final draw that was held up to ridicule and labelled as the "the final struggle of speculators on public credulity for popularity to their last dying lottery."

Meanwhile, over in America, back in 1612 the Virginia Company of London was granted the rights to use an English lottery authorized by King James I in order to help raise money to help settlers in the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Virginia get settled and from then on, lotteries played a significant role in financing both private and public ventures in early America. In fact, records indicate that in a thirty year span, 1744-1776, more than 200 lotteries were sanctioned and monies collected from these went to help pay for the building of roads, libraries, churches, colleges, canals, bridges, etc. Two such Universities that benefited greatly from this form of funding were Princeton and Columbia while the University of Pennsylvania was assisted by the Academy Lottery in 1755.

During the time of the French and Indian Wars, lotteries were used by several colonies in order to help with costs of building fortifications and paying local militia, including one special lottery in May of 1758, called the "Expedition against Canada, run by the State of Massachusetts. Along with another lottery organized by Benjamin Franklin to help with costs of purchasing a cannon to defend Philadelphia, "Pieces of Eight" were handed out as prizes while George Washington's Mountain Road Lottery in 1768 proved to be a disaster. The only good thing to emerge from this special lottery is the fact that there are still a few tickets bearing Washington's signature in existence today and as such have become collectors' items, selling for around $15,000 a few years ago (2007). This was not the only lottery run by Washington, in fact in 1769, he was a manager for Col. Bernard Moore's ‘Slave Lottery’ that actually listed land and slaves as some of the winning prizes in the Virginia Gazette.

Lotteries continued through and after the Revolutionary War, mainly used as a form of hidden tax revenue that the public accepted without hesitation with taxes never really being seen as a way to raise money for public projects. For many years lotteries were highly successful and contributed to the nation's growth with many American churches raising funds for their buildings through state authorized private lotteries.

Sadly, lotteries then fell into disrepute after being financially mismanaged. The Louisiana State Lottery Company is infamous for this and actually had a very foul reputation as a swindle of the state and citizens and a repository of corruption.

The company, initially a syndicate from New York, was leased on August 11, 1868 by the Louisiana General Assembly for 25-years and gave the State $40,000 a year in return. With the passage of this lease, all other forms of organized gambling were made illegal.

Right from the start this gave it a bad reputation as it was looked upon as bribing the legislators into a corrupt deal, especially at a time when other states were viewing lotteries and gambling with suspicion.

It was founded by John Morris, who owned a controlling interest and Charles Howard, who served as first president due to his experience at the Alabama Lottery and Kentucky State Lottery.

Former Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Jubal Anderson Early, held the drawings adding some credibility, however according to the New York Times they were paid handsomely for the few days each month that their services were needed.

Most of the tickets were sent via special train (there was so much mail it required a special consideration) to agents in the U.S. and abroad who would sell them in their respective areas.

In 1890, three years before the expiration of the lease, the company bribed the legislature into passing an act to write them into the constitution (thus requiring a successful supermajority of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature and referendum) by offering to give the state $500,000 per year.

While the lottery was always opposed on vice and morality grounds, the renewal of the lease and constitutional amendment began the serious, organized opposition that would effectively kill the company.

The Anti-Lottery League and its newspaper, the "New Delta" were the main supporters behind ending the drawings and they were backed by many prominent activists.

Prominent Presbyterian minister, Benjamin Palmer, gave an anti-lottery speech at the Grand Opera House in New Orleans on June 25, 1891 and it is widely believed that this was struck the final blow.

In March the following year, the constitutional amendment to renew the lease was defeated. Murphy Foster, an anti-lottery candidate was elected, as were a majority of anti-lottery legislators, and during that year all lottery operations were banned, the company excepted until its charter expired in December 1893.

In 1890, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison sent a message to Congress demanding "severe and effective legislation" against lotteries. They acted swiftly on this demand and banned U.S. mail from carrying lottery tickets, a law that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1892. As a result, lotteries came to complete stop in the US by 1900.

Following this, the company moved their base to Honduras where they continued to issue lottery tickets in the United States illegally. However, their printing press was discovered in 1907 and subsequently closed down.

At the beginning of the 20th century, most forms of gambling, including lotteries and sweepstakes, were still illegal in many countries, including the U.S.A and most of Europe. This remained the case until after World War II. Then, in the 1960s casinos and lotteries began to appear throughout the world as a means to raise revenue in addition to taxes and modern day lotteries were born.

The oldest lottery still in operation

Staatsloterij is a state owned lottery in The Netherlands and is the oldest game still in operation with the very first draw dating all the way back to 1726, almost three hundred years ago.

In 2010 at least 4.3 million prizes were guaranteed each and every month. Carrying the slogan "what you see is what you win", prizes are only drawn from sold ticket numbers, with the exception of the Jackpot.

Prize money is, on average, is a whopping 35 Million Euros with the draw itself taking place on the 10th of every month.

Added to the normal 12 drawings, there are two special draws every year, the Queens Day Lottery and the New Year’s Eve lottery, making a total of 14 every year.

Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, this is the lottery that most scams centre themselves around with email hoaxes being sent around the world about big wins in the Netherlands and asking the ‘winners’ to either send money in order to release the funds or give their personal details in order for funds to be transferred. While the ‘winner’ sits back and waits for money that fails to materialize, their identity is stolen and bank accounts emptied.

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