The history of the lottery


Life is basically one big game of chance and fate where the outcome is decided by lady luck rather than lady justice. Maybe its no surprise then that the lottery, a pure guessing game, can change peoples lives by random chance. The lotto has been around for as long as I remember and although it is not something that has affected my life, other than the scratchcards worth very little from when I was a kid, a fond memory that I will always have, it is an important part of the culture of the Uk and therefore the society I live in.

Although you could find reported cases of raffles before in English history, there was never a lottery before Queen Elizabeth I. It was first charted in 1566 and was drawn three years later. Because of the price of entry (10 shillings), only the rich were able to enter, as well as libraries, who were allowed free entry. With only 40,000 spots available, anyone who was anyone in English society at the time had to have a chance at winning. She did all of this as a chance to drum up money to avoid raising the taxes on the people. Raised taxes meant poor and angry people who were displeased with their Monarch, which is something no queen wants. She would use this money to improve English boats, ports and harbours, for the purpose of improved trades and easier warfare. Because she didn’t have to give prizes until three years later, she had time to build the money back up that she had received from those who had entered. Prizes were anything from £5000 pounds, to the Queen’s tableware to a get out of jail free card as long as you hadn’t murdered, or committed treason or piracy. They continued this lottery on until people became unwilling to pay the large fee to participate. 

Between the years of 1694 and 1826, the English State Lottery ran 170 lotteries. Thats 1.288 lotteries per year for 132 years. Once again, the lottery was used to fund projects for the country and its government. Some of the projects funded using the lotto money include Westminster bridge and the building of what eventually became the British Museum. Not only that, but the money from the lottery also helped bolster the navy and helped reduce capital or interest on national debt. There were however issues with the system that lead to its abolition. When the English government changed the way that the lottery worked, many raised concerns they had over it. Encouraging people to play despite the cost made the lottery a lot like gambling, especially since there was always the chance, more often than not, that nothing would be won. Considering many people couldn’t afford to buy lottery tickets, people were spending money money they didn’t have on something that had no guarantee. Not only that, but unlike Queen Elizabeth’s lottery, the wealth that was being given away was in no way equal to the income of money that was being received from the lottery every time it was played and drawn. This lead to the final lottery being drawn on the 18th of October 1826 at Coopers’ Hall. 

The lottery as we know it today has only been going for a short time but it is still something that has become part of daily life for many. The tickets are now far more affordable but they still suppoort goverment projects. While I don’t know how I feel about the encouragement tof gambling, it is always a wonderful thing when fate decides that it is your life it wants to change. May you all be lucky when you next pick your numbers. 


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