21 Incredible Things
You Didn’t Know About the Lottery
What do Voltaire, Casanova, and the British Museum have in common?
They all benefited from the lottery! Lottery history is amazing and full of incredible, mind-blowing facts and true stories.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these facts from ancient to modern times, and remember to buy lottery tickets online to make your own lottery history!
1. Lotteries are a whole lot older than you think
While no one can say definitively when lotteries began, they certainly are not a new concept. The earliest forms of lottery can be traced as far back as 100 B.C. in Ancient Rome and the Han Dynasty in China. This means that lotteries have been a part of human history for at least 2,114 years!
2. Some lottery prizes are better left unclaimed
Most people dream about winning huge jackpots, but some prizes are better off rolling over. Take the lotteries during Elagabalus’ reign as Emperor of the Roman Empire from 218 AD to 222 AD. This teenage tyrant held public lotteries in which catapults were filled with lottery tickets and live, poisonous snakes, which were then launched into a crowd of people who fought over the tickets while trying not to die from snake bites. Prizes included good things like property, but also plenty of nasty surprises like dead animals, live wasps, and death sentences.
3. The Great Wall of China was built with lottery revenue
Keno, an ancient game resembling a mix between lottery and bingo, was played during the Han Dynasty in China as a way to fund massive building projects, including the Great Wall of China.
4. The Low Countries are lottery pioneers
The first lotteries on record which offered tickets in exchange for cash prizes were held in the Netherlands and Belgium in the 15th century. One of the first lotteries with a complete record was held in 1445 in L’Ecluse (modern-day Sluis). The lottery offered a prize of 1,737 florins (roughly $170,000 in today’s money) and sold over 4,300 tickets. Most revenues were used to build town infrastructure or help the poor.
5. The word ‘lottery’ is a multi-cultural mashup
Since lottery evolved into its modern form – selling tickets for a potential cash prize win – in the Netherlands and Belgium, it is no surprise that the English word ‘lottery’ originates from the Dutch word ‘lot’ which means ‘fate’. ‘Lotto’ originates from Italian – the first post-Roman Empire lottery in Italy was held in Milan in 1449.
6. Lottery by royal decree
To get a lottery up and running, you had to have approval from top authorities. And approve they did: King Francis I of France, Queen Elizabeth I, and King James I all put their royal stamp on lottery applications.
7. Candide you know that Voltaire made his fortune by playing the lottery?
If it weren’t for the lottery, one of the most famous writers of the Enlightenment might never have come to light. Voltaire was not doing well financially when he met Charles Marie de la Condamine, a brilliant mathematician, at a dinner party. He shared a brilliant scheme with Voltaire and the rest is history. The scheme went like this: The French government was holding a lottery to encourage people to buy government bonds.
To enter the lottery, bond owners had to buy a lottery ticket for 1/1000th of the bond’s value. De la Condamine worked out that if they bought up all the small bonds, they’d only have to pay a miniscule amount for the tickets while simultaneously having the majority of the lottery’s entries. They created a syndicate with several wealthy contacts and started winning jackpots monthly, unbeknownst to local authorities. The authorities finally caught onto their scheme, partially due to Voltaire writing mocking notes on the back of the winning tickets.–
The lottery was shortly cancelled thereafter, but Voltaire and de la Condamine managed to make enough money to live comfortably and pursue their passions for the rest of their lives. Enlighten yourself about syndicates through theLotter and you could join the ranks of these scholarly gentlemen!
8. Casanova was a lottery lover
Everybody knows that Casanova loved women, but most people don’t know he loved the lottery! When he was forced to leave Italy, he went to Paris and was told that if he found a way to raise funds for the French government, he would win the favor of the authorities. Right away, he went to King Louis XV and advised him to start a lottery. This greatly pleased the King and reduced French debts. As for Casanova, he became a lottery trustee and made a fortune. However, due to bad business decisions and even worse romance decisions, he got himself into debt and had to go on the run once again. This time he tried to start lotteries in England and Russia, but his attempts failed.
9. Even Vatican City has lotteries!
At first the papacy was against lotteries in Rome. Popes Innocent XI and XII threatened excommunication against Catholics that participated in the Italian lotteries, but the lotteries were still as popular as ever with the public. In 1732, the Holy See led by Pope Innocent XIII finally permitted the establishment of an official Roman lottery. Centuries later, the Vatican has more than warmed up to lotteries. Pope Francis, the current pope, held a lottery — with funds going to charity – in January 2015. He just announced a second lottery with a 30 July draw date. The tickets are only 10 euros each, however you’ll have to go to a Vatican pharmacy, post office, supermarket, or bookshop if you want to enter.
10. The British Museum was created by lottery funds – and still benefits!
One of the world’s best museums was made possible because of the lottery! In 1753, England formed a lottery with the museum’s creation in mind. More than 250 years later, the museum still receives funding in the form of Heritage Lottery Fund grants. The Heritage Lottery Fund gives grants to many British institutions with proceeds from the National Lottery.
11. The United States of America was a lottery-funded project
The founding fathers of the US were founding fans of the lottery! Benjamin Franklin established a lottery to pay for a cannon in Philadelphia. George Washington set up many lotteries, though they never succeeded. Thomas Jefferson set up a private lottery to pay off debts. And in 1776, the Continental Congress established lotteries in order to fund the Colonial Army. No wonder Mega Millions and Powerball are so popular – playing the lottery is as patriotic as bald eagles and baseball!
12. US lottery revenue has been funding education for a long time
It’s well known that a large percentage of modern US lottery proceeds go toward public education. However, lottery revenues have been funding higher education in the United States since the 1700s. Many Ivy League universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, were partially-funded through lottery revenue prior to the Civil War.
13. Cleanliness can cost you millions aka don’t iron your lottery tickets!
It doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest neat freak in the world – do NOT iron your lottery tickets! Some tickets, like the ones sold by the National Lottery, are made from thermal paper which turns completely black and unreadable when ironed.
14. Not checking or losing a lottery ticket cost someone big-time
The world record for largest unclaimed lottery prize goes to a EuroMillions ticket sold in the UK worth £63,837,543.60. The draw date was 8 June 2012, so even if someone finds the ticket now, it will be of no use to them. All unclaimed National Lottery prizes go toward its Good Causes fund.
15. A $590 million lesson in politeness
We’re taught to always be polite and respectful, especially to our elders. Mindy Crandall took this lesson to heart and let 84-year-old Gloria Mackenzie cut in line at a grocery store in Florida. One of the things on both ladies’ shopping list was a Powerball ticket. Because of the line jump, Mackenzie won $590 million. Crandall says she doesn’t regret a thing because it taught her daughter an important lesson about kindness. To save yourself from this scenario, skip the grocery line and play Powerball online!
16. One very accurate fortune cookie made lottery history
In 2003, 110 tickets matched the second-highest Powerball prize division. Normally Powerball expects the amount of winners to be zero to four per draw, so they suspected fraud. What they found was much more interesting than a case of lottery tampering – a lucky fortune cookie had been making the rounds in Chinese restaurants across the country and people played the cookie’s lucky numbers. 89 ticket holders won $100,000 and 21 won $500,000 because they chose the Power Play which multiplied their winnings. An important lesson learned… cookies are good for you!
17. Sometimes you can’t take the money and run
Denise Rossi won $1.3 million in the California lottery in 1996. 11 days later she filed for divorce from her husband Thomas, after 25 years of marriage, with no explanation and without ever telling him about her win. He found out and sued her in family court. The judge ruled that she acted with malice and committed fraud, and – due to a statute penalizing spouses for lying about assets during divorce proceedings — awarded her now ex-husband the entire $1.3 million. Lying never pays.
18. Cheating death to win the lottery
In 1999, an Australian truck driver by the name of Bill Morgan was involved in an auto accident. He had an allergice reaction to medication given to him during the recovery process that caused his heart to stop and was clinically dead for 14 minutes. He started responding again, but he was comatose and doctors figured he would have extensive brain damage. 12 days later, he came out of the coma with surprisingly no brain damage. He decided to quit his truck driving job and marry his long-term girlfriend. He was feeling pretty luck and bought a lottery scratch ticket and ended up winning a car! Because he was famous for coming back from the dead, the local news interviewed him and persuaded him to buy another lottery ticket in front of the cameras to see how lucky he really was. The result? He won AUD$250,000!
Another death-defying lottery winner is Frane Selak from Croatia. According to Frane, he’s escaped death seven times, including stints as a passenger in separate train, plane, bus, and car crashes. In 2003, he won €800,000 in Croatia’s lottery. He was dubbed the “world’s luckiest unluckiest man”.
19. An Australian syndicate spent $5 million on the lottery and won
In 1992, a mathematically-talented syndicate from Australia listed all the possible outcomes for a 6/44 lottery held in Virginia, USA. They purchased 5 million out of the 7 million different combinations at $1 each. They ended up winning the $27 million jackpot, making their mass ticket purchase well worth the effort and investment. Virginia Lottery considered banning the syndicate’s strategy, but the motion didn’t pass and it remains a legal strategy.
20. Sometimes lightning does strike twice or thrice
A man in Florida, James Bozeman Jr., won the Florida Lotto twice with tickets purchased at the same 7-Eleven convenience store; his total winnings are $13 million. A couple in Virginia won the lottery three times in one month; they won $1 million with a Powerball ticket on 12 March 2014, then won $50,000 on 26 March with a Virginia Lottery Pick 4 ticket, and yet another $1 million with a Virginia Lottery Scratcher ticket the very next day! In Norway, three members of the Oksnes family won the lottery three times in six years – that must make for exquisite family reunions!
21. Lotteries have had a huge impact on culture
Whether in literature, music or film & television, lotteries have been impacting culture for centuries. From Chekhov’s The Lottery Ticket to Jorge Luis Borges’ The Lottery in Babylon to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the lottery has been a recurring source of inspiration for some of the world’s greatest authors. It Could Happen to You, one of the best lottery-themed movies, tells the story of a New York police officer who shares his lottery ticket with a waitress instead of giving a tip, and they win!
The movie is actually based on a true story, but unlike the movie, there was little drama and even less romance between the two jackpot winners. Many songwriters have written romantic songs with lyrics comparing finding a good lover to winning the lottery. Lotteries have also funded high culture: National Lottery-funded films have won a total of 31 BAFTAs and 15 Oscars!
With people all around the world now equally as captivated by huge jackpots as they were centuries ago, it’s safe to say that the lottery will continue to inspire artists for years to come.
Just as Chekhov, Casanova, and others got inspiration from the lottery, I hope you’ve gotten some inspiration from this list of amazing, not-so-well-known lottery facts. Keep playing lottery online and may luck and a great fortune cookie be on your side!