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Lottery History: The Fascinating Story of Instant Lotteries

The instant lottery throughout the ages

Instant lottery scratchcards are a popular form of gaming; low in cost, easy to purchase, and offering instant rewards. They come in a wide range of types, offering a variety of prizes from gift items, to small cash sums, to money rewards worth millions. But where do instant lotteries come from? We trace the rise of the instant lottery from Han Dynasty China to modern-day New York.

 

The roots of the instant lottery

Instant lotteries are usually traced back the 1960s, when the first scratchcards were introduced. But did you know that instant lotteries were probably held 200 years before Christ, during China’s Han Dynasty? In fact, the very first lotteries may well have been instant, as slips for Keno (a lottery-like gambling game, a version of which is still played in modern casinos) have been found dating back to around 200 BC. The Chinese Book of Songs (also the 2nd Century BC.) contains the words "the drawing of wood", which probably means drawing lots to win a prize. And the first European lotteries were held in the Roman Empire, mainly as a game at dinner parties, and they also offered instantaneous prizes. Guests would each receive a ticket, and could win prizes like expensive fabric or tableware. The Cornish words "teulel pren", used during the Celtic era, translate as "throwing wood", and likely mean "to draw lots".

 

The first scratchcards

In the 1960s, many American grocery stores gave out cards with purchases that were covered with a waxy coating, and contained a possible cash prize. Although the prizes were usually very small — sometimes under a cent — customers loved them.

 

While this was happening, higher stakes non-instant lotteries were being introduced to the United States as the New Hampshire Sweepstakes (later known as the New Hampshire Lottery) made its debut in 1964. Originally, the game was based on the results of horseracing, and tickets were only sold after New Hampshire voted on whether to allow Sweepstakes tickets in March 1964.

 

John Koza and Dan Bower

In the 1960s, John Koza and Dan Bower were workers at one of the companies which printed free grocery-store scratchcards. They decided to transform the low-value scratchcard into a product for state lottery commissions. But first they needed to solve a problem: winning cards typically contained subtle clues, such as marks or smudges, that gave away the prize inside. Koza and Bower solved the problem by printing in larger batches, and ensuring multiple small differences between all the tickets. In the early 1970s, Koza and Bower flew to Boston, where they gained support for their new product.

 

An instant hit

When the first scratchcards went on sale in Boston in 1974, customers mobbed shops, buying fistfuls of tickets. Lines stretched down blocks, stores demanded extra tickets and Koza described sales as “spectacular.” In the early years, scratchcards were designed to be attractive and sometimes celebrated tourist attractions, or featured artwork.

 

Improvements

In the late 1980s, a scientist named Jerome Greenfield created the non-toxic, water-based coating still used on scratchcards. Greenfield’s adhesive could be scratched off quite easily and was resistant to normal abrasion. It represented a leap in the technology of scratchcards, as previously the adhesive used could be brittle, stubborn, or even had to be wiped off the card with butter.

 

The move online

When Internet-based gambling was in its infancy, scratchcards were already at the peak of their popularity. And despite newly-introduced online gambling, traditional scratch cards continued to be immensely popular. Nonetheless, it was not long before companies like Health Lottery realised that by moving instant lotteries online, the variety of scratchcard game selections could be increased, and the user experience improved. Modern online scratch card games use animations, sound effects and graphics to make the experience exciting and immersive, to rival a casino atmosphere. And with printing and manufacture costs no longer a factor, scratchcards could retail at a lower price without prize sums falling.

 

Always popular

Over thousands of years, the instant lottery has remained popular for entertainment and profit. Offering a break from the humdrum, and the chance to experience a life-changing moment, scratchcards and instant lotteries never grow old. To enjoy an instant lottery experience today, or learn more, visit Health Lottery.