A lottery is a popular form of gambling which involves the drawing of lots for a prize. Some governments forbid it, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a national lottery. It is common to find some degree of regulation of lottery by governments.

The first signs of a lottery trace back the Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 B.C., where ancient Keno slips were discovered. The lottery has helped finance major governmental projects like the Great Wall of China.

The first known European lottery occurred during the Roman Empire, and was mainly done as a form of amusement at dinner parties. Each guest would recieve a ticket, and prizes would often consist of fancy items such as dinnerware. Every ticket holder would be assured of winning something. The first European lottery to award money was held in Florence, Italy in 1530. As with the earlier Roman style lottery, all ticket holders would be eligible for a small prize, such as a trinket, for playing.

The Dutch were the first to shift the lottery to solely money prizes and base prizes on odds (roughly about 1 in 4 tickets winning a prize). The lottery proved to be very popular, and was hailed as a painless form of taxation. In the Netherlands the lottery was used to raise money for e.g. supporting poor people, building dikes, constuction defense works for towns and to buy free sailors from slavery in the Arab countries. The English word lottery stems from the Dutch word loterij, which is derived from the Dutch noun lot meaning fate. The Dutch state owned staatsloterij is the oldest still existing lottery.

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