Throughout history, lotteries have been used to fund public projects, including roads, bridges, libraries, fortifications, and colleges. Today, at least 100 countries have their own lottery.
While lotteries have been used in the United States since the Colonial Era, their earliest records date back to the first half of the 15th century. In fact, the first known European lotteries were distributed by wealthy noblemen during Saturnalian revels.
A number of colonial America used lotteries to finance local militias and fortifications. The Continental Congress used lotteries to raise money for the Colonial Army. The “Expedition against Canada” lottery raised money for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The first French lottery, called the Loterie Royale, was authorized by an edict of Chateaurenard. It was a flop. The tickets cost money and prizes were of limited value.
In China, the Book of Songs mentions the “drawing of wood” as a game of chance. However, the Chinese Han Dynasty lottery slips believed to have helped finance major government projects.
A lotteries’ first use in Europe was in the cities of Flanders in the first half of the 15th century. The Roman Empire also held lotteries during the early period of the Empire.
Some people were skeptical about the feasibility of lotteries. They thought that they were a form of hidden tax. But Alexander Hamilton, who wrote a treatise on lotteries, said that it was not uncommon for people to spend trifling sums for the possibility of great gains.