Friday, August 2, 2013

How to Win the Lottery, Nineteenth Century Style

Millions of dollars at stake, thousands of people lined up for tickets, dozens of schemes covering which tickets to buy and whether to share tickets in a pool of people for maximum impact--sound familiar?  It wasn't unfamiliar to those in early nineteenth century England either.  The government regularly held lotteries from 1566 to 1826, all to help fund state programs such as the development of the British Museum.

In the beginning, the state lottery was actually more of an investment program.  Only so many tickets were sold, and many to wealthy families.  The government held the money in trust and drew interest on it for up to 3 years, then each ticket holder received a share of the prizes.  Imagine--no losers!  Prizes might include silver plate and china as well as money.  But all that changed in the late 1700s to a system more like what we have today--merely a chance to win a certain amount of money.

At the same time, the government awarded contracts to brokers to sell the tickets.  These brokers in turn hired agents who could be rather bold in their attempts to sell the tickets.  Broadsheets advertised the opportunities, and many were quite creative.  One lamented that love was difficult to come by, but money wasn't--just buy a lottery ticket!  Lottery "insurance" men went around badgering people to subscribe, offering the lure of quick riches to a populace sunk in poverty.  Some called the desire to participate "lottery influenza" because it was widespread and pernicious. 

If you couldn't afford the price of a full ticket, you could buy a half, quarter, eighth, or sixteenth, with your prize being commensurately lower.  Though August was a favorite month, with a drawing every Monday and Thursday, other lotteries were held at other times of the year, such as Valentine's Day (not my idea of a romantic way to celebrate!). 

Some felt it immoral to gamble on the lottery.  Others took advantage of the practice.  An entire side industry grew up allowing people to wager on various aspects of the lottery, such as which ticket was more likely to win.  Police advocate and magistrate Patrick Colquhoun estimated that the money raised by such secondary schemes was equal to what the government was getting from the lottery.

Evangelical protests finally led to a change in policy, with the last state lottery of this sort held in England in 1826.  However, the previous activities had influenced the Colonies.  America used a lottery to help fund the War for Independence, which was not quite the winning outcome England had hoped for. 

And if you'd like a chance to win a free book, come back next week for the launch of The Courting Campaign!

(Picture of lottery ticket by Ron Shelley and used under a Creative Commons License)


QNPoohBear said...

What a timely post as I saw Power Ball is up over 200 million again. The ore things change the more things stay the same.

Regina Scott said...

Funny, QNPoohBear. My husband told me the same thing last night. I guess I have my head too much in the past, because I hadn't noticed until you two said something. :-)