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What state has the oldest lottery?

Lotteries have a long history in the United States, dating back to the colonial era. While most states now operate their own lotteries, a few pioneering states kicked things off in the early days of America.

The Early Lotteries

Lotteries were used to help fund major projects and institutions in the colonies. Some of the earliest lotteries include:

  • 1612 – The Virginia Company held a lottery to raise funds for the Jamestown colony.
  • 1747 – The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) held a lottery to raise construction funds.
  • 1753 – King’s College (now Columbia University) held a lottery to build a new college building.

These early lotteries set the stage for more formal, ongoing lottery systems at the state level.

The First State Lotteries

The first continuously operating lotteries at the state level were:

  • New Hampshire – The first state lottery was launched in New Hampshire in 1964. It started as a weekly sweepstakes that is still in operation today.
  • New York – New York launched its state lottery in 1967. It started as a weekly drawing and now offers daily games as well.
  • New Jersey – New Jersey’s state lottery also began in 1970. It was the first state to earmark lottery profits for state education funding.

So while New Hampshire was technically first, New York and New Jersey quickly followed suit within a few years to create the first ongoing state lottery programs.

The Expansion of State Lotteries

After New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey launched their lotteries, other states gradually followed over the next few decades:

Year State
1964 New Hampshire
1967 New York
1970 New Jersey
1971 Connecticut, Massachusetts
1972 Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania
1973 Arizona, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont
1974 New Mexico
1975 Delaware, Ohio

By 1975, a total of 15 states had established lottery systems. Momentum accelerated through the next decades, and by the 2000s, almost every state had followed suit. Currently, 45 states and Washington D.C. operate lotteries.

The Largest and Oldest Continuously Operating Lotteries

While New Hampshire was technically first, the lotteries in New York and New Jersey quickly eclipsed it in size and longevity:

  • New York – With over $10 billion in annual sales, New York has the largest and longest continuously operating state lottery. Its drawings have continued uninterrupted since 1967.
  • New Jersey – Launched in 1970, this was the third state lottery but the first to dedicate profits to state education funding. It generates over $3 billion annually.
  • New Hampshire – Despite being first, New Hampshire’s lottery remains relatively small at just $300 million in annual revenue. But it does have the longest uninterrupted operation dating back to 1964.

State Lotteries Today

Today, state-run lotteries are entrenched institutions generating billions in revenue annually. The billions in profits provide funds for key state expenditures:

  • Education – Most states dedicate a portion of lottery profits to educational spending such as scholarships, school infrastructure, and more.
  • General budgets – While education is the most common beneficiary, lotteries also provide general budget support for many states.
  • Specific causes – Some states dedicate profits to specific causes such as environmental programs, services for the elderly, and more.

State lotteries have undergone massive growth since New Hampshire’s modest sweepstakes over 50 years ago. With multi-state jackpot games like Powerball and Mega Millions continuing to break records, lottery fever is stronger than ever throughout the country.


While the early colonies dabbled in lotteries to fund projects, New Hampshire holds the title for launching the first modern state lottery in 1964. New York and New Jersey quickly followed suit, establishing the biggest and oldest continuously operating lotteries. From humble beginnings, state lotteries have since exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry funding key state programs and services across the U.S.