The lottery is a popular pastime for players, and it’s long since been a source of tax income for US states. But it didn’t begin that way. Let’s look at how the lottery started in the US and how far it’s evolved as well as information pertaining to the amount and timing of Mega Millions and Powerball drawings for the week of September 5, 2023.
Current Powerball at $461 million
Americans spend more than $100 billion a year on physical and online lottery tickets in the hopes of winning big.
Drawings for Powerball — the lottery’s most popular game — occur every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 10:59 p.m. The current Powerball jackpot for the week of September 4th sits at $461 million.
The estimated Mega Millions jackpot sits at $101 million, with drawings taking place at the same time each Tuesday and Friday night.
Since a portion of lottery funds benefit the community, players consider the lottery the most morally acceptable form of legal gambling.
These days, state lottery money largely supplements education initiatives. But this varies widely from state to state. Many states, including Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, use the budget specifically for education. Other states, meanwhile, deposit the money into a general fund allotted for various public safety, education, and road construction projects.
This wasn’t always so, though.
The Origins of the Lottery in America
We can trace the lottery’s origin back to biblical times, when townspeople would cast lots (i.e. draw stones) to determine important decisions. Fast forward to the mid-20th century, and the lottery’s journey to the States wasn’t entirely different.
The lottery wasn’t born in America. Rather, it was brought over by the colonies.
In 1612, the Virginia Company of London enacted a lottery to fund voyage to the new Jamestown colony of Virginia.
Called the First Great Standing Lottery, players could purchase tickets for a chance to win their share of £5,000 in prizes. Due to rumors of corruption and a struggle to sell tickets, the drawing ultimately took place one month later than intended. Nevertheless, the company managed to raise 29,000 pounds to fund its third charter. Today, the Virginia Lottery is worth over 3 billion dollars, according to Statista.
From the Founding Fathers to Billion Dollar Jackpots
Once colonized in America, Puritans initially saw lotteries and gambling as an abomination. Townspeople called them a dishonor to God and a gateway to further transgressions. But despite vocal opposition, gambling became commonplace in New England by the 1670s.
American colonies then began using lotteries in the 1700s to fund town infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, wharves, and churches. Lotteries funded a number of major US projects in the 18th century, even using them to fund the construction of Harvard and Yale.
Our founding fathers were especially fond of lotteries, albeit their efforts were often ill-fated. In 1748, Benjamin Franklin established an unsuccessful lottery to defend against British attacks in Philadelphia.
In 1767, George Washington debuted the Mountain Road Lottery in an attempt to construct a mountain thru-way road in Virginia. Unfortunately, the lottery’s supplemental funds weren’t enough to bring the project to fruition.
Thomas Jefferson, who was also fond of lotteries, said:
“They are indispensable to the existence of man, and everyone has a natural right to pursue such one of them as he thinks most likely to furnish him subsistence.”
The year Jefferson died, he established a private lottery in the hopes of eliminating his massive debts. That too, however, was unsuccessful.
John Hancock, on the other hand, managed to establish a successful lottery in 1765 to help rebuild the burned-down Faneuil Hall in Boston.
The lottery soon became an important part of town funding for governments. For residents, playing the lottery meant the potential of lucking into a whole new life.
Most notable, perhaps, was a win that came in Charleston, S.C. near the turn of the 19th century. A slave named Denmark Vesey used his local lottery winnings to purchase his freedom.
Corruption causes lottery crackdown
As America settled into the 1800s, an underlying distaste for lotteries eventually bubbled to the surface.
A private brand named the Louisiana Lottery Company appeared in 1868. The business sold lottery tickets in Louisiana and beyond, touting a nearly 93% out-of-state sales rate. The problem, though, was the amount of state and federal bribery involved. As if that weren’t enough of an issue, underhanded organizers began pocketing ticket sales and swindling winners.
This rise of corruption put a final nail in the lottery’s coffin. The company was forced to close in 1890 when Congress banned the state-to-state sale of lottery tickets. And the U.S. was once again left without any solution for a legal lottery.
Inflation paves future for US lotteries
The lack of a US lottery was feasible for a time, as America welcomed prosperity following World War II. Residents reaped the rewards of new infrastructure projects without the burden of increased taxes.
However, inflation set in come the 1960s as Vietnam War spending increased. Expenses continued to rise, forcing local governments to find new ways to supplement their budgetary requirements.
Thus, the lottery as we know it today was born.
New Hampshire ignites 20th-century lottery surge
New Hampshire was the first to welcome a state lottery in 1964. Without a state sales tax or income tax, New Hampshire relied on property taxes to fund most state projects before the lottery. After legalizing the New Hampshire lottery,
Seeing New Hampshire’s success, New York followed suit in 1966, along with New Jersey in 1970.
States were initially apprehensive, fearing that lottery games might prompt corruption and encourage organized crime. But those scales tipped drastically come the 1970s.
Border states were quick to notice the tax implications and often debuted their own versions soon after. By 1975, 13 state lotteries had become legal.
State lotteries began collaborating in an effort to attract more players and offer bigger jackpots. Thus, multi-state lottery games like Powerball and Mega Millions were born, giving rise to the lottery’s national expansion.
Powerball got its start in 1988 as the game Lotto America.
Come 1996, the popular national game Mega Millions debuted under the name the Big Game. Now, Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Mississippi became the latest to debut a lottery in 2019. Now, 37 total state lotteries exist, along with the District of Columbia. More than a handful of these states even offer online lottery options.
Only five states have yet to introduce the industry: