The History of Lotteries Around the World


The History of Lotteries Around the World


Lottery balls and selection cage equipment.

The History of Lotteries Around the World


A digital sign saying “big win” in lights on a purple background.

There’s something so exciting about playing games of chance like online bingo and the lottery – especially when you’re feeling particularly lucky! Did you know that there are approximately 60 million bingo players in the US and that about 50% of all Americans participate in their state lottery? These statistics certainly show that these games are extremely popular in modern times, but the reality is that they’ve actually been around in various forms for centuries!

Let’s take a trip back in time to examine the history of lotteries around the world, how the lotto has transformed over time and what the future may hold for this specific game and its many enthusiastic players.

When did the lottery start?

Wondering about the history of the lottery or who started the lottery? How long has the lottery been around? Most historians agree that the world’s first lotteries have their origins in 15th-century Europe, most likely in the Netherlands and Belgium. But there are a few experts who believe that this game dates back much further, highlighting the existence of ancient keno slips unearthed from the days of the Chinese Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. Regardless of where the game began, it quickly drew in thousands of fans, causing public lotteries to quickly become widespread. The first public lottery to offer cash prizes was the Ventura, which ran in Italy from 1476.

European settlers brought their love for the lottery along with them when they colonized America and there’s evidence to show that there were hundreds of lotteries in operation in various colonies during this era. That being said, it wasn’t until 1934 that the first modern government-run US lottery was established. This lottery operated in Puerto Rico and was the only one of its kind for decades until the establishment of the New Hampshire lottery in the mid-1960s. From there, the lotto really started to take off, resulting in the introduction of scratch cards in the 1970s and a multi-state lottery game in 1985. Today, the US is home to almost countless lotteries across 48 jurisdictions.

Lotteries in different countries

Lottery balls going through a see-through pipe in a casino.

Lotteries are operated in a similar way around the globe, although it’s safe to say that some countries take it more seriously than others. For example, Spain’s El Gordo lottery history is legendary for two reasons. Firstly, it has been in operation for well over 200 years and secondly, staying true to its name (which translates to mean “the fat one,”) it offers one of the world’s largest prize pools: an estimated $2,555 million in 2022.

The lotto is also extremely popular in the Netherlands. The country is celebrated for having the longest-running state-owned lottery, called the Staatsloterij, which began in 1726. Today, this lottery dishes out around $400 million per year across 16 separate draws.

From an odds perspective, you probably already know that the likelihood of winning anything when playing the lottery (never mind the jackpot itself) is very low. If you’re after the highest possible odds, then Poland is the place to be. It’s known for its MINI lotto, which boasts significantly higher odds than most other lotto games around the world (although a not-so-impressive jackpot) at 1 in 850,668 per ticket bought.

The then, the now and the future

As much as the lottery has already evolved since its early beginnings, it seems there are even more changes on the horizon. It’s a fact that technology is transforming the way that people choose to gamble. For years now, most people who take part in a lottery have been opting to buy their tickets online – and that’s not just when it comes to participating in local or state lotteries. It’s now possible for gamblers to buy into various international lotteries all around the globe. 

In short, the lottery is now more accessible than ever before, but so are many other exciting games, the vast majority of which offer significantly better odds and can fill gamblers’ free time with many hours of fun and entertainment (outside of simply buying a ticket and checking the lotto’s results!)

There’s no doubt that there’ll always be a place for the lottery. After all, it has already managed to stand the test of time. But there’s also evidence to suggest that, in coming years, online casino games will dominate as the gambling pastime of choice, with a particular focus on bingo among those die-hard lotto fans. This is due to the many similarities between these two popular games. We unpack this in a little bit more detail below.

What’s the difference between playing the lottery and playing online bingo?

A person crosses out numbers on a card.

Both games revolve around numbers and both games deliver outcomes determined entirely by luck. The main difference between the lotto and bingo? The odds. You have a much higher chance of winning a prize when playing online bingo than you do when playing the lottery. It’s easy to calculate your exact odds for a specific bingo game based on the number of players and how many cards each player has bought.

Another difference is play frequency. Lottery draws happen at predetermined times. Some have daily or weekly draws, while others are held annually. Online bingo, on the other hand, is always available to play whenever you’re in the mood for a game.

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