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Lotteries have always been one of the most popular forms of gambling throughout history. They require zero skill to play, and offer the chance of landing a sizeable, life-changing jackpot for a relatively small outlay.
Lotteries have been around for well over 2,000 years. Keno (a type of lottery game – see our keno section) tickets have been found in China dating back to around 200 BC. It’s thought lotteries were used to help fund the building of the Great Wall of China.
At the end of the 1800s, lotteries fell into disrepute as they became an easy target for corruption and money-laundering. They experienced a revival from the 1960s onwards and now most countries around the world have state-sponsored lotteries that have changed the lives of countless hundreds – if not thousands – of people.
Playing a lottery could not be simpler. You choose a selection of ‘lucky’ numbers from the range on offer, and then await the drawing of the numbers. The more numbers you match, the bigger the prize you win. Match all of your numbers and you could win a staggering prize. The current lottery jackpot is $656 million shared between three lucky ticket holders in the USA.
Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to be a resident of the country in which you purchase a lottery ticket. You can buy a ticket online for the US’s Powerball lottery even if you live in the UK.
Several online casinos will also now allow you to play lotteries via their sites. You are not actually buying a lottery ticket if you do this, but instead you are wagering on the numbers you choose coming up in the draw, which is virtually the same thing.
The casino will offer fixed odds for your success, and of course they then cover any potential losses by buying a ticket with your numbers online for the lottery itself.
The history of lotteries
As revealed above, lotteries have been around for some time – since the Chinese Han Dynasty in fact, well over 2,200 years ago now. There’s also some evidence that lotteries were around in Roman times as a means to secure funds for building repairs, although only the very rich were allowed to play them.
Lotteries were very common in Europe from around 1400 onwards. In the UK, the first state lottery was held in 1566, although it took three years before all the tickets were sold and the draw actually took place. The final UK state lottery was held in 1826, and it wasn’t until 1994 that one was re-established.
During the early years of American colonisation lotteries were often held in order to raise funds for development purposes, but they swiftly gained a terrible reputation for corruption and were outlawed. There came a revival in the 1860s, but the US government eventually completely banned lotteries in 1895.
The lottery re-emerged in the US in 1964, when the state of New Hampshire was granted permission to establish a state-run lottery. More and more states followed suit and fifty years later all but six states (Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah) hold state lotteries.
The modern lottery craze gathered momentum in the 1990s, when prizes for winning began to spiral into unbelievable amounts. States began to join forces and lotteries to create mega-jackpots that could snowball into the hundreds of millions. The biggest ever single jackpot winner in US history is Gloria C. MacKenzie of Zephyrhills, Florida who took home $371 million in May, 2013.
The UK entered the lottery craze in 1994 when it created its first national lottery for nearly 170 years. Europe now has several combined lotteries, including the EuroMillions. The top EuroMillions jackpot is €190 million (£148 million or $250 million) won by Adrian and Gillian Bayford in August 2012.
Lotteries in popular culture
- The US sitcom My Name is Earl was based around a $100,000 lottery win. Petty thief and con artist Earl Hickey wins that amount on a lottery ticket but is instantly hit by a car and loses his ticket. Earl decides to embrace ‘karma’ and begins to right every wrong he had performed throughout his life – and is reunited with his winning ticket after completing his first good deed. Earl carried on righting bad karma for all three series.
- In the final season of the classic US comedy Roseanne the blue-collar Connor family headed by comedian Roseanne Barr wins $108 million on the state lottery. They are catapulted into a bizarre fantasy world which was a complete turn-about from the previous eight seasons of the popular series. In the final episode it’s revealed that the entire season (and indeed much of the previous eight) had been a fantasy concocted by fierce matriarch Roseanne in order to cope with the death of her husband Dan, played by John Goodman.
- In the 1998 movie Waking Ned a mystery member of an Irish village wins the National Lottery. Two friends take it upon themselves to find the winner, and discover it to be Ned Devine, who unfortunately suffered a fatal heart attack just as his winning numbers were revealed. The whole village concoct a falsehood to persuade lottery officials to award the winnings to the deceased Ned, so that they may then share the loot.
The world of lotteries
MegaMillions (USA) – The first major cross-state lottery was created in 1996 across Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia under the name ‘The Big Game’. The MegaMillions lottery is now available across 44 different states. Players choose five numbers from 1 to 75, and a ‘MegaBall’ from 1 to 15. The jackpot is won by matching all six numbers, but rolls over often. The MegaMillions holds the world record jackpot payout at $656 million, won in March 2012.
PowerBall (USA) – The Powerball began lottery life as Lotto*America as a joint venture between 14 different US states. It’s now the second-most popular US lottery and is played all across the country except in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Players must choose five numbers from the range 1 to 59, and a ‘PowerBall’ from the range 1 to 35. The jackpot is won for matching all six. The record prize for the PowerBall lottery is the $590.5 million won by Gloria MacKenzie, as mentioned above.
EuroMillions (Europe) – Originally a joint venture between the UK, France and Spain, the EuroMillions draw is now the combined effort of a dozen European countries and principalities. It began in 2004 and has been creating multi-millionaires ever since. Players choose five main numbers from 1 to 50, and two lucky stars from 1 to 11. Match all seven to win the jackpot. The EuroMillions record is €190 million, or £148 million, won by couple Adrian and Gillian Bayford in August 2012.
Super Enalotto (Italy) – First drawn in December 1997, the Super Enalotto is organised by SISAL who have been running the Football Pools in Italy since 1946. It replaced the Enalotto which has been running since the 1950s. For the draw, players must choose six numbers between 1 and 90 plus a ‘SuperStar’ number. To win the jackpot, all six plus the ‘SuperStar’ must be matched. Because there are so many numbers, jackpot wins are rare which means the jackpot can rollover into amazing amounts. The biggest ever Super Enalotto prize is €177,800,000 which was by a Tuscan husband and wife in October, 2010.
Spanish Superdraw (Spain) – Spain holds a monthly lottery and has been doing since 1763. The biggest prizes are for the ‘El NiĂÂ±o Draw’ in January and the ‘El Gordo Draw’ in December which is also known as the Christmas Lottery. Spain grinds to a halt for the El Gordo draw which is a television spectacular where the numbers are sung by children from the San Ildefonso school. Tickets for the draw have five numbers on them and are drawn for each available prize. The Christmas lottery has a prize fund of €2.5 million.
UK Lotto (UK) – In 1993, the UK Prime Minister John Major announced the creation of the UK’s first state-sanctioned lottery for 170 years. The initial draw took place with much fanfare on 19 November 1994, with £6 million being shared by seven lucky winners. For the main lottery (now called ‘Lotto’) players must choose six numbers from the 49 available, and matching all six via the draw wins the jackpot. The largest Lotto jackpot stands at £42 million, drawn in January 1996.
Irish Lotto (Ireland) – Ireland created a National Lottery in March 1997, but it wasn’t until a year later that the first draw took place. Originally, players had to match six balls from 36, but this was eventually raised to six from 45. The Irish lottery jackpot record is €19 million won by a sixteen-strong syndicate in June 2008.