By 1566 the lottery idea had caught the imagination of the English.  The southeast coastal towns of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich (known as the Cinque Ports) all  needed costly harbor repairs.  The people of these ports, losing time and money through constant labor at makeshift repairs to combat the ravages of stormy winters, threatened an uprising; the mayor sought advice from the Warden of the Ports, who went to Queen Elizabeth I.  And it was she who, as it were, set the first English lottery wheels in motions by authorizing a state lottery to pay for repairs to the harbors.  It was launched in 1567.  There were 400,000 tickets, with a top prize of the equivalent of about $ 17,500 in cash and lesser prizes in the form of goods worth the equivalent of about $ 75000 altogether.

All over 16th century Europe game private and public lotteries soon got a strong grip on the people.  The lottery fever raged so strongly in Italy that in 1590 Pope Gregory XIV ordered the excommunication of anyone who bet on the election of a new pope or on the duration of the conclave (such bets usually taking the form of pools).  At the instigation of Louis XII France (who was also duke of Milan), tickets were sold for a lottery to be held on the date of the completion of Milan cathedral (which had been begun in 1386).  Half a million tickets were sold but no one drew a prize: The cathedral wasn’t completed in Louis’s lifetime or, indeed, anyone else’s in that century- and the ticket-holders weregiven their money backgammon.  (The cathedral was completed by Napoleon in 1805, so he could be crowned king of Italy in it.)


Some of the early lotteries were run for purely philanthropic reasons, like Mme.  Van Eyck’s.  An English lottery sanctioned by James I in 1612 raised the equivalent of about $ 140,000 for some American colonists.  Other lotteries were run for more dubious reaons, and often people hesitated before buying tickets because they feared (sometimes justifiably) that the outcome might be fixed.  Louis XIV of France drew the tickets for a lottery in the 17th century, and landed a 100,000 franc prize for himself and smaller prizes for the queen and the dauphin.  The people’s anger was stilled only when the king graciously handed the money backgammon and requested that it be drawn for again.

One thing was evident: Whether they were honest or crooked, philanthropic or profiteering, lotteries offered a reliable source of income.  Hard-pressed governments couldn’t ignore this fact for long, and so state-run lotteries gradually began to make their appearance throughout Europe.  Italy organized the first one in the 19th century; then France and Germany followed suit.  Today most European countries and many non-European ones have state lotteries that offer regular (often weekly) draws, large prizes, and the comforting knowledge that everything is run in an efficient and honest fashion.  Stakes are invariably small, and generally a certain prearranged percentage of the income from tickets sold is handed out as prize money while the rest (after the deduction of running expenses) goes to the state.

Seeds were sown for the first state lottery as such – Italy’s Lo Giuoco del Lotto d’Italia by early government lotteries run in the various Italian states before the country was united.  The Lotto  de Firenze  in 1528 was one of the first; then, in Genoa in 1576, the admiral-statesman Andrea Doria persuaded the government to approve a law providing for the selection of five names from the 120 members of the Genoese nobility for election to the senate.  The twice-yearly drawing of the five names aroused interest among the public, and soon betting and gaming became an important side issue of the draw.  Half of all the money staked was given to the bettors who had guessed the five names correctly; the remained was kept by the organizer of the game.  Some years later the number of names was reduced to 90, and eventually numbers were substitute4d for names.

Lotteries and pools can be held on connection with almost any event- even a papal election .  A Roman totopapa board in 1963: on June 19 betting favored Cardinal Montini.  (he was elected two days later.)

By the middle of the 17th century the idea had spread to many other Italian towns, but it was no longer based on the election of senators.  A twice-yearly draw didn’t meet the public demand.  A weekly lottery was what was wanted, and the various regional governments were quick to see the revenue possibilities.  On September 27, 1863, with the proclamation of the united kingdom of Italy, Lotto was made a legal source of national income.  Today, the Italian ministry of finance (which administers the lottery ) states in a bulletin on Italian affairs: “The game of Lotto is firmly established among the sources of income of the state budget, which absolutely cannot do without it considering the high figure it yields every year.”

The figure referred to (the state’s income from Lotto) is 50 per cent of the total annual income from the sale of tickets.  This total has increased rapidly in recent years.  In 1954 it was the equivalent of about $ 45,000,000; today it is well over $ 75,000,000.  The introduction of mechanical ticket-issuing machines in various parts of the country has undoubtedly helped to increase expenditure.  Aside from the state’s profit, the prizes account for about 40 per cent of the total income from ticket sales, and the administrative expenses for 10 per cent.  Among the Italian regions Campania holds the betting game record –the equivalent of $ 13,000,000 in 1953.  Lombardy, Sicily, Latium, Piedmont, and Liguria are runners up.

The day’s winning number in Italy’s state lottery is displayed in a Naples street.  Below right, a lottery “tipster” (who makes his living in Naples by predicting winning numbers  ) advises a bettor.  Below, a blindfolded boy picks the five winning numbers in the Italian lottery from a rotating container.  Drawing take place weekly in Italy’s principal cities

There is at least one lottery office in every Italian town.  Each office is under the control of a manager who runs it as an individual business, and who is responsible for all running expenses.  He makes a weekly return to the ministry’s General Inspectorate, which controls all the legal forms of gambling in Italy, including casinos, football pools, small raffles, and games organized for charity.