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6 Unbelievable Lottery Tales from Throughout History

Let’s take a look at 6 amazing and true lottery tales from throughout the ages!

Although today’s lottery jackpot payouts are the biggest ever recorded, lotteries have a long and rich history. Here are 6 unbelievable (and true!) stories about lottery games from ancient times through to colonial America!

3rd Century BCE: The Kleroterion

The Klero-what? This ancient device was used for a different kind of lottery than you might think!

In ancient Athens, Athenians believed that everyone should participate in civic politics, and that officials should be elected on a regular basis.

Here’s where the lottery comes in: rather than cast ballots to vote on who should fill various civic positions, Athenians used this odd-looking device to randomly select who would be appointed to these spots.

(Imagine winning the lottery, only to find that instead of striking it rich, you’ve landed yourself in jury duty. No thanks!)


205-187 BCE: The Great Wall of China

The first confirmed example of lottery as we know it comes from ancient China.

In around 205 BCE, Emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty sanctioned a lottery draw to fund expansion of the Great Wall of China.

The game proved so popular that it lasted long after the Han Dynasty, and eventually evolved into Keno, one of the world’s most played lottery games to this day!

lottery games

Raising funds for the Great Wall of China led to the creation of a lottery game we know as Keno today!


1st Century BCE: The Roman Empire

The next stop on our trip through lottery history is Ancient Rome. Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, was looking for a way to fund repairs of Rome’s infrastructure, which had been damaged by recent wars.

His brilliant idea to use lottery to pay for maintenance projects came from a game that was popular among Roman nobles, who held draws for guests to win prizes at their lavish parties.

Augustus altered the game to sell lots to the public, which proved to be enormously popular. Thanks in part to his lottery, Rome flourished as one of history’s greatest cities!


1612: Jamestown, Virginia

While you might think that the recent US$1.586-billion US Powerball jackpot was the most influential lotto game of all time, an even more important lottery took place way back in the 17th century!

In 1612, King James I authorized a lottery to be run by the Virginia Company of London. With the money raised by this lotto game, the company was able to fund the building of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent British colony in America.

A lottery that helped to create America? I’d call that pretty influential!


1728: Voltaire’s fortune

Perhaps no lottery winner made a bigger impact on history than Voltaire, the famous French writer and philosopher!

Looking for a way to acquire wealth as a young man, Voltaire teamed up with his mathematician friend Charles Marie de la Condamine, who figure out a way to game a French lottery.

The plan worked perfectly, and the pair won big. After wisely investing his winnings, Voltaire grew his fortune considerably, and spent his time studying philosophy and writing some of the most famous works of literature in history!


1768: The Mountain Road Lottery

This lottery might win the award for most valuable tickets after the draw took place!

In the late 1700s, lotteries were a popular way to raise money to develop and settle America.

One lottery that wasn’t so popular was the Mountain Road Lottery, which was created by the future first President of the United States, George Washington.

Washington’s lottery, meant to raise funds to build a series of roads and a resort in rural Virginia, failed in part because of the abundance of other competing lotteries.

But history has been kind to this humble lottery, due in no small part to the fact that Washington personally signed each and every lottery ticket. To this day, Mountain Road Lottery tickets command huge sums of money among memorabilia collectors!


These are just a few of the many stories that make lottery such an interesting part of history. Who knows, maybe someday future historians will tell of your legendary lottery win!



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