From remote antiquity disputes have been settled, ownership agreed upon, priority established, leadership determined, or the like, by casting or drawing lots.
The emperors of Rome introduced a novelty into the old practice when, during the Saturnalia, or feasts to Saturn in mid-December, they awarded elaborate gifts to the person fortunate enough to hold or draw a winning lot.
Similar customs were observed by European rulers during later centuries. Eventually the thought occurred to someone that people should pay for the chance to hold or draw a winning lot.
So far as is known the earliest of these latter events was held at the city of Bruges in 1446. It may not have been until the following century, however, that a drawing held in Florence in 1530 was the first to be called by the Italian term, lotteria.
The first lottery in England was a state affair for the purpose of raising money, in 1569, for the repair of harbors. The Virginia Company held another in 1612 for the benefit of the distracted colonists of Jamestown. Thereafter lotteries were frequent in England and throughout Europe.
In Italy a numerical lottery was invented in 1620 by the Genoese, and was called lotto di Genova. It had been devised originally for the election of counselors, with wagers upon the outcome. But later the names of candidates were replaced by the numbers from one to ninety, with wagers, according to the ability of the gambler, upon the five numbers that were drawn.
There were four different kinds of chances in this lotto, the lowest returned fourteen times the stake and the highest forty-eight hundred times the amount of the stake.
This form of Italian lottery was transformed into a game, called lotto, often played for stakes, which became popular in France and England in the eighteenth century.