A Short History of Raffles


Raffles have been around in one form or another since possibly the beginning of human civilization. Over their long history, they’ve been used by individuals and heads of state to raise needed funds.

The history of raffles began ages ago. The Old Testament tells us that Moses used a lottery to award land west of the Jordan to his people. The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans loved playing raffle-like games of chance, using dice or bones to cast lots and draw winners. Soon, these simple games of chance evolved into endeavors with real fundraising potential. Subsequently, during the Hun Dynasty, the Chinese invented Keno. The game is a form of lottery, which is still popular and played by people today! The money from those ancient Keno draws was used for civic projects, including constructing the Great Wall of China. Talk about one big fundraiser!

After the death of her husband, the Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck’s widow held one of the first recorded raffles. She sold tickets and raffled off one of his remaining paintings!

The idea of using raffles to raise funds caught on after that, and why not? Printing raffle tickets and selling them is a great way to fund big projects for organizations of any size! Belgium took to the idea in the late 1460s and held lotteries that financed churches, public facilities, and civic projects. Then in the 1500’s Florence, Italy, hosted its first lottery, and in 1568 Queen Elizabeth I held a raffle. The prizes were a tapestry, china, and cash, and over $400,000 raffle tickets were offered for sale. From that time on, raffles and lotteries flourished throughout Europe. They are said to have really caught on in France, and the Netherlands lays claim to the longest-running lottery, which started in 1727.

Soon, raffles made their way to the New World. The first raffle recorded in North America took place in Virginia in 1612. Like many raffles of today, the funds went to the community.

Today church groups, service clubs, community organizations, and more print tickets, joining the long history of raffles. Only now, instead of selling raffle tickets solely in person, we can now sell raffle tickets online!

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