1567 – The First British Lottery

The lottery has a rich and far longer history in England than many believe; the first English lottery actually took place all the way back in 1567.

The fascinating history of the lottery in England tells the extraordinary tale of Queen Elizabeth I and her introduction of the state game in the 16th century. Lotteries can be traced all the way back to biblical times, but they enjoyed a resurgence in Europe during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

Prizes for the first state lottery as envisaged by Queen Elizabeth I included plate and tapestry as well as cash and 400,000 tickets were initially offered for sale. This first lottery was used as a way for the crown to raise funds to repair several English harbours that needed attention. The total value of the prizes offered by the lottery equalled the money that was raised for harbour repairs and a number of scrolls depicting sketches of the prizes were hung around the country to tempt people to compete. The tickets, each with its own name and number, were put on sale for a whole two years.

In 1569 the first British Royal lottery was established and the numbers were drawn, however only a twelfth of the hoped for 400,000 tickets were sold before the numbers were chosen. This may have been disappointing for her Majesty, but in the intervening years between the sale of the tickets and the drawing of the lottery the state had enjoyed what was effectively and interest free loan.

Another fascinating offshoot of the story of England’s first state is the involvement of brokers in the ticket buying process. The government decided to sell lottery ticket rights to brokers who would then source and hire runners and agents to sell them on to interested parties and, seeing as many people could not afford the full price of a ticket, a system was devised where they could buy a share of the ticket and therefore would be entitled to a share of the prize. These brokers are the early day incarnation of what we now know as stockbrokers who work for all sorts of commercial ventures.

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