Lotteries have been around for a long time, probably because they’re such a clean and simple form of gambling game. First of all, the fact that the prizes go to a randomised winner makes it appealing to a large number of people. Unlike poker, and a range of games descending in skill from there, there’s no real trick to winning a lottery (although there are of course people who claim to have a magic sense for numbers). It’s a simple winner though a random selection process – everyone has an equal chance.
The simplicity of a lottery means that they’ve popped up early on in human history, often in the form of a simple 50-50 lottery. This system, with 50% of the money raised going to the winner and 50% of the money going to the organiser means you don’t need a big system of infrastructure or complex mathematics to organise. So it wasn’t long before lotteries became a popular way to raise money, especially for governments. Some of the first lotteries on historical record were used by the Qin dynasty to raise funds for the early stages of the Great Wall of China.
Closer to modern times, lotteries played a role in funding the US independence army at the start of the War Of Independence. The scepticism of the colonists towards taxes (as you might remember, a tax on tea was a major spark in kicking off the war in the first place) meant that the American army needed to find other ways of raising money, and lotteries provided a way, though they were often viewed as a form of tax in disguise. Later on, after independence, they would be used to fund early works projects in the newly-born United States. Later on in US history, private, black market lotteries would prove to be a popular past-time in the poorer neighbourhoods around New York, with different immigrant neighbourhoods often having their own lotto, like the Italian and Cuban lotteries. These were eventually cracked down on as the 20th century progressed, and now most US lotteries are organised officially by various states.
January 2016 saw the world’s largest-ever lottery jackpot paid out, playing the US game Powerball. The grand prize was a whopping $1.568 billion, which was split between three ticket-holders, one in California, one in Tennessee and one in Florida. Each winner took home a grand prize of 528.8 million dollars before taxes. In terms of a grand payout from a single ticket, it’s another US game that’s responsible, Mega Millions. In 2018 a single ticket-holder in South Carolina took home a sum of $1.537 billion.
Back closer to home in Europe, lotteries were a form of entertainment at Roman dinner parties, and then eventually becoming a source of income for the government for infrastructure projects. Back in Sweden, formal lotteries came into the country in the form of Svenska penninglotteriett in 1939, and now most of the country’s lotteries are controlled by the state company Svenska Spel, along with transnational lotteries like Eurojackpot, and licensed companies like Lottoland. The long history of lotteries looks set to continue.