The History of the Lottery


The first lottery took place in colonial America, where colonial governments used it to fund roads, colleges, and libraries. The lottery also financed the construction of Faneuil Hall in Boston and a battery of guns in Philadelphia. These lotteries were banned in 1826. During this period, however, the lottery was an integral part of the American experience. It helped to build the country and its colonies. The lottery’s influence continues today.

The size of prize pools and the frequency of drawings are determined by the rules of the lottery. Lotteries usually have a hierarchy of sales agents, who pass money paid for tickets up through the organization and bank it. Most national lotteries split tickets into fractions, with each fraction costing slightly more than a portion of the total ticket price. Many agents also purchase whole tickets at a discounted price to sell to the public. Small stakes can then be placed on fractions of the ticket.

The price of a lottery ticket can sometimes exceed the expected gain. If a person maximizes the expected utility of his or her purchase, he or she shouldn’t purchase the lottery. Nevertheless, lottery fever spread from the northeast to the south and west, and by the 1990s, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia had their own lotteries. In 2004, ninety percent of the population lived in a state with a lottery. Any adult physically present in a lottery-operated state could purchase a lottery ticket.