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What was the Louisiana Lottery history?

The Louisiana Lottery has a long and controversial history stretching back to the 1800s. It was one of the most famous and profitable lotteries in American history before being shut down in the 1890s. Understanding the story of the Louisiana Lottery provides insight into the popularity of lotteries in the 19th century, the political battles over legalized gambling, and the eventual prohibition of lotteries in much of the United States.

When and why was the Louisiana Lottery established?

The Louisiana Lottery Company was established in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Louisiana was cash-strapped and still recovering from the war’s devastation. Establishing a lottery was seen as a way to generate much-needed revenue without raising taxes. The Louisiana Lottery Company was granted a 25-year charter to operate the lottery by the state legislature.

The lottery was designed to pay high prizes and give good odds to attract players from around the country. Under the 25-year charter, the Louisiana Lottery Company would pay the State of Louisiana $40,000 a year for the lottery rights and give a percentage of revenue back to city improvement funds. Lottery proponents claimed the lottery would be an honest system free of corruption.

How did the Louisiana Lottery work?

The Louisiana Lottery operated monthly or semi-monthly drawings similar to modern state lotteries. Players would buy physical lottery tickets from local agents around Louisiana and other states. These lottery agents kept a percentage of ticket sales as commission.

Each Louisiana Lottery ticket had a unique number combination printed on it with six digits. Players could choose their own number combination or have the lottery agent choose numbers for them. The drawings were held in New Orleans and pulled winning numbers from a large wooden lottery wheel.

If a player’s ticket number matched the winning numbers in exact order, they won the top prize. Smaller prizes were also given out for matching just some of the winning numbers. The Louisiana Lottery had fixed prizes – there were no pari-mutuel jackpots that increased based on ticket sales like modern lotteries. The top prizes ranged from $100,000 to $300,000 for most drawings.

Who played and ran the Louisiana Lottery?

At its peak, the Louisiana Lottery sold over $2 million in tickets for a single monthly drawing across 10,000 retail locations. It had hundreds of employees. Players came from Louisiana and beyond, including wealthier citizens, poorer classes who dreamed of striking it rich, and out-of-state players lured by ads and ticket agents.

The Louisiana Lottery Company was headquartered in New Orleans. It was overseen by a firm headed by John A. Morris, who had been involved in illegal gambling before the Civil War. The company employed local New Orleans elites. Charles T. Howard, who became the lottery company president, was a well-known Louisiana businessman and politician. The lottery company was known for lavish spending and a fashionable presence in New Orleans.

What was the impact and controversy surrounding the Louisiana Lottery?

The Louisiana Lottery generated approximately $28 million in annual revenue during its 25-year run. It provided millions to the state and city improvement funds. Supporters claimed the lottery was a business that produced honest jobs.

However, the lottery came under fire from moral reform groups who saw it as encouraging vice and irresponsible gambling. Religious leaders condemned the lottery company for promoting a spirit of risk and chance. There were also continuous, though unproven, accusations that the lottery drawings were rigged or dishonest.

Some corrupt agents attracted criticism by taking advantage of players. Lottery fever sometimes led to overspending and debt by poor citizens hoping to win a fortune. The lottery also developed a political stigma because it was seen as enabling official corruption in Louisiana’s government.

What led to the decline of the Louisiana Lottery?

In the early 1890s, the Louisiana Lottery faced mounting opposition. The company’s 25-year charter was set to expire in 1893, leaving its future up in the air.

The Anti-Lottery League, a coalition of reform groups and newspapers, launched campaigns to block renewal of the lottery charter. They gained influence in the state and national government. In 1892, Congress approved legislation sponsored by Representative John A. Caldwell that banned the mailing of lottery materials, cutting off interstate business.

The Louisiana Lottery also faced defections from former political allies in Louisiana as opposition grew. In 1893, the state legislature rejected renewal of the lottery company’s charter under this pressure. With its operations squeezed, the Louisiana Lottery closed down after its charter expired on January 1, 1894.

What happened after the Louisiana Lottery shut down?

After the Louisiana Lottery ceased operations, lottery owners tried various maneuvers to salvage their business. Lottery chief Charles Howard relocated some operations to Honduras and Mexico. When those efforts failed, the company invested in racetracks until it dissolved in 1907.

The closure of the Louisiana Lottery helped mark a broader turn against lotteries across the United States. By 1910, only a handful of smaller lotteries remained. Moral opposition and state bans shut down most lotteries until their resurgence in the 20th century. No state would operate another lottery until New Hampshire introduced the first modern state lottery in 1964.

In Louisiana, debates over gambling continued into the next century. Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing was legalized in the state in 1908. A ban on casinos was added to the state constitution in 1906 and lasted until voters repealed it in 1990.


The Louisiana Lottery was a historically significant part of America’s experience with lotteries. During its 25-year run, it showed both the popularity and profitability of lotteries. But it also stirred controversy that previewed moral debates over gambling that continued into later centuries. The story remains an interesting example of the economic and social impacts of organized gambling in U.S. history.

Year Event
1868 The Louisiana Lottery Company is established with a 25-year charter granted by the Louisiana legislature.
1875 The Louisiana Lottery Company has over 800 lottery agents around the country selling tickets.
1878 Louisiana Lottery Company builds the Orleans Opera House in New Orleans.
1880s The Louisiana Lottery faces growing opposition from moral reform groups.
1892 Congress bans the mailing of lottery materials, damaging the Louisiana Lottery’s interstate business.
1893 The Louisiana legislature refuses to renew the Louisiana Lottery Company’s charter.
1894 The Louisiana Lottery holds its final drawing and ceases operations.

The Rise of the Louisiana Lottery

When the Louisiana Lottery was established in 1868, it was not the first lottery in the state. Louisiana had a history of public and private lotteries since becoming a U.S. territory in the early 19th century. But the Louisiana Lottery would quickly become one of the largest and most famous lotteries in the country.

With its special 25-year charter and monopolistic design, the lottery could offer some of the highest prize purses available to attract players from Louisiana and beyond. By 1872, the Louisiana Lottery was already one of the most prosperous lotteries in the nation.

The company cultivated a luxurious image in New Orleans. Its currency, the Louisianne, was redeemable for winning lottery tickets. The Louisiana Lottery Company constructed prominent buildings like the Orleans Opera House. Lavish parties were thrown on major drawing days. This public presence helped normalize the Louisiana Lottery as a respectable business and civic institution.

Buying and Winning Lottery Tickets

To play the Louisiana Lottery, customers would buy physical lottery tickets from local ticket agents. Tickets cost a standard price – $1 in the 1880s – and agents received a standard commission percentage from their ticket sales. Lottery agents were located across Louisiana, as well as in other states like Texas, Alabama, and New York.

Each lottery ticket was a slip of paper with a printed six digit number combination on it, like 276548. Players could choose “lucky numbers” to play or have the agent randomly assign number combinations. Drawings were held on the second Tuesday of each month in New Orleans.

At the drawings, winning numbers were determined by spinning a large wooden wheel divided into 100 sections numbered 0 to 99. Matching all six winning numbers in exact order won the top prize up to $300,000. Players won smaller prizes for matching some of the winning numbers like 4 out of 6.

If no one won the top prize at a given drawing, it would roll over to increase the jackpot for the next drawing. When major jackpots built up, lottery fever would spur a rush of ticket sales.

Scandal and Corruption

With so much money involved, the Louisiana Lottery naturally attracted scandals and charges of corruption. The lottery company had to fend off continuous rumors that the drawings were rigged. While its operations in New Orleans seemed above board, some shady lottery agents cheated illiterate customers or drove poorer citizens into debt.

There were also accusations of bribery and political favors, as the lottery company tried to influence Louisiana newspapers and legislators. While much of this was unproven, the specter of corruption remained. To critics, the Louisiana Lottery enabled gambling addiction, immorality, and dishonest government.

The Anti-Lottery Movement Gains Steam

Through the 1880s, resistance to the Louisiana Lottery gradually increased. Religious groups condemned the lottery as unchristian. Newspapers like the Times-Democrat crusaded against it. In 1890, the Anti-Lottery League was formed as a coalition between moral reformers, business leaders, and politicians.

The Louisiana Lottery also faced a loss of political support. Longtime backer Horace Greeley turned against the lottery in 1871. The late 1800s saw the lottery company lose influential friends in the Democratic and Farmers’ Alliance parties. Even some Louisiana officials backed away as anti-lottery sentiment grew.

Seeing the shifting winds, Congress passed legislation in 1890 sponsored by Rep. John A. Caldwell that banned any lottery materials from being sent through the mail. This undercut a major part of the Louisiana Lottery’s interstate business.

The End of the Louisiana Lottery

With its 25-year charter expiring in 1893, the Louisiana Lottery Company sought a renewal from the state legislature. But the anti-lottery coalition flexed its political strength, working to defeat pro-lottery legislators.

In the December 1892 elections, the Lottery Company spent over $500,000 trying to elect sympathetic legislators and governors. However, anti-lottery candidates prevailed, signaling that public support had turned decisively against the lottery.

In early 1893, the Louisiana legislature voted down renewal of the lottery’s charter. With no legal authority, the Louisiana Lottery held its last drawing on October 1, 1893. It closed down operations at the start of 1894, ending its 25-year reign as one of America’s great lotteries.


The Louisiana Lottery was a historically significant part of America’s experience with lotteries. During its 25-year run, it showed both the popularity and profitability of lotteries. But it also stirred controversy that previewed moral debates over gambling that continued into later centuries. The story remains an interesting example of the economic and social impacts of organized gambling in U.S. history.