The new District lottery is not the first to be held in the city, writes author George Sullivan in By Chance a Winner: The History of Lotteries. In 1793 the Commissioners of the District of Columbia launched a lottery to raise funds to build the new capital city. They were unable to sell the necessary tickets, and the lottery was ended in 1799.
Among Sullivan's other bits of lottery legend:
* In biblical times, casting lots was used as a method of ascertaining divine will. Stones of different colors or with special markings were placed in a vessel and shaken until one popped out. God was thought to have made the choice.
* In the 16th century, England, France and Venice, Italy, ran government lotteries.
* The first American colonists in Jamestown (1612 to 1620) were financed largely by lotteries held in England. Later, the colonies conducted their own versions to provide revenues for the new communities.
* Lottery failures and scandals in the 19th century prompted a wave of anti-lottery legislation. Congress legislated lotteries out of existence in the District in 1842.
* By 1930, every one of the 45 states had passed statutes outlawing lotteries.
* The first legal United States lottery drawing in 70 years -- aside from draft lotteries -- took place in New Hampshire in 1964. New York started its lottery in 1967; New Jersey followed in 1971.