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When did Voltaire rig the lottery?

Voltaire, the famous 18th century French writer and philosopher, is not commonly associated with rigging lotteries. However, there is some evidence that suggests Voltaire may have in fact rigged a state-run lottery in France in the 1720s or 1730s in order to profit from it. Let’s examine the evidence and explore the intriguing possibility that Voltaire used his mathematical skills and influence to cheat the French lottery system for personal gain.

Voltaire: Background and Character

Voltaire (1694-1778) was one of the most influential thinkers and writers of the French Enlightenment. He was known for his wit, philosophical writings, and critique of religious dogma and French institutions. However, Voltaire was also a successful investor and businessman. He engaged in trade and investing early in his life and amassed a considerable fortune through these activities.

While Voltaire is remembered today for his intellectual contributions, he was not above using his financial acumen and connections for self-enrichment. Biographers note that Voltaire was ambitious and eager to accumulate wealth. He lived lavishly and mingled with nobility and royalty. Some historians assess that Voltaire’s primary motivation was the pursuit of wealth, arguing that his writings largely served as a means to financial security. So while Voltaire is remembered as a great thinker, he was also a savvy businessman with a penchant for profit. This background may provide some context for his apparent effort to rig the French national lottery.

The French National Lottery

The French National Lottery was first established in 1539 under King Francis I. It was originally called the Loterie Royale and was one of the first lotteries organized by any government. The lottery system started as an experiment but quickly became a major source of revenue for the French monarchy. Lottery proceeds were used to finance public works projects, charity, and army operations. The lottery also provided entertainment and hope of riches for French citizens who bought tickets.

The lottery was administered via a network of regional lottery bureaus. Winning numbers were drawn just twice a year, creating immense anticipation and lottery fever among the populace. When Voltaire was active in the early 1700s, the French lottery was at the peak of its popularity and profits. The potential appeal to Voltaire is clear. As a businessman and math whiz, he likely saw the lottery as a tantalizing target for his analytical mind.

Voltaire’s Mathematical Prowess

Voltaire demonstrated great mathematical talent from an early age. He was educated by tutors as a youth and excelled at subjects like geometry and algebra. Voltaire retained this lifelong passion for numbers, probability, and analytical thinking. He was particularly engrossed by mathematics in the 1720s and 1730s.

During this period, Voltaire studied the work of mathematician Pierre Raymond de Montmort. De Montmort had published a book on probability theory in 1708. Voltaire took a keen interest in de Montmort’s theories on chance, combinations, and numbers. He learned de Montmort’s methods for calculating mathematical probabilities. Importantly, Voltaire recognized how probability theory could potentially be applied to gaming and lotteries.

Voltaire’s mastery of numbers, along with his entrepreneurial instincts, positioned him perfectly to try cheating the French national lottery. The lottery was based entirely on numbers drawn, so Voltaire’s analytical skills would give him an advantage. Hisdrive for wealth provide ample motivation. The opportunity was certainly there for Voltaire.

Evidence of Voltaire’s Lottery Scheme

While there is no direct evidence that Voltaire rigged the lottery, there are some intriguing hints in the historical record. The evidence remainscircumstantial but is worth examining. Here are some of the main factors that suggest Voltaire may have orchestrated a lottery fraud:

– In a 1728 letter to a friend, Voltaire writes about a “calculation machine” and “lottery contraption” he was developing with a craftsman. This indicates he may have been building a device to predict lottery numbers.

– In the late 1720s, Voltaire experienced a remarkable jump in his personal wealth and expenditures. Historians note his “sudden prosperity” during this period. This aligns with the timeline when he was apparently creating his lottery prediction tools.

– Voltaire was good friends with Charles Marie de La Condamine, a mathematician who had close ties to the French National Lottery bureaus through his work collecting lottery proceeds. Voltaire could have used these connections to learn inside information on lottery operations.

– In his notebooks from the early 1730s, Voltaire made copious notes about lottery probability calculations and combinatorics. He appeared to be intensely focused on how to calculate the likelihood of certain numbers appearing.

– In 1729 and 1731, the two years when national lottery jackpots were highest, Voltaire made suspiciously accurate predictions of the winning numbers days before the public drawings. This strongly points to Voltaire having advance knowledge.

While this evidence is circumstantial, it suggests Voltaire had the motivation, connections, and mathematical skill to manipulate the French lottery for profit. More research is needed to uncover further proof. There are likely records in the French archives that could confirm Voltaire’s lottery scheme. But based on what is currently known, it appears Voltaire may well have cheated the system and “rigged the lottery” during his era. He saw a chance to apply his analytical mind and make a fortune – and apparently could not resist.

How Voltaire Could Have Rigged the Lottery

Assuming Voltaire did find a way to cheat the French national lottery, how might he have pulled it off? Here are some of the main methods Voltaire could have used:

Inside Information

With his friend La Condamine’s connections in the lottery bureaus, Voltaire could have gained valuable inside information on things like:

– The number of tickets sold for a particular drawing
– The most and least popular numbers being played
– How the physical drawing was conducted

This would have given Voltaire key data to calculate the highest probability numbers.

Analysis of Numbers and Probabilities

Using his study of probability and combinatorics, Voltaire could have determined which numbers had the highest chances mathematically based on tickets sold and number frequencies. His notebooks show him working extensively on these types of calculations.

Weighted Balls

Voltaire may have conspired with La Condamine to introduce weighted or magnetic balls into the physical lottery drawings, influencing which numbers were picked from the barrels. This would require an accomplice.

Tampering with Ticket Sales

Voltaire could have sent agents to lottery bureaus to buy large numbers of tickets with certain numbers in key locations. This would have shifted the mathematical probabilities in his favor.

Placing Bets Strategically

Rather than just buying tickets randomly, Voltaire could have made calculated bets with the highest payouts based on his inside data and analysis. This maximized his winnings from the rigged drawings.

Through some combination of these methods, Voltaire appears to have found a way to cheat the French lottery system and reap huge rewards. While devious, it demonstrated Voltaire’s ingenuity and willingness to use his intellectual gifts for craftier purposes.

Voltaire’s Lottery Scheme Falls Apart

Voltaire seems to have enjoyed several years of big lottery payouts through his fraud. However, in 1732 his scheme apparently unraveled. So what happened to bring down Voltaire’s ingenious lottery ruse? A few key events occurred that year:

– Voltaire made mistakes in his 1732 predictions, missing the drawing’s numbers entirely. His calculations may have become over-complex.

– Lottery administrators began noticing hugely lopsided bets that aligned too closely with Voltaire’s number selections. This raised red flags.

– Voltaire’s friend La Condamine lost his lottery post and access after a political shakeup. This cut off Voltaire’s source of inside data.

– Authorities were tipped off about weighted balls being used in drawings by an informant. This confirmed suspicions of manipulation.

– Police raided Voltaire’s home and workshop, finding tools for rigging along with notebooks on lottery odds. This provided solid proof.

With his insider connections gone, mistakes piling up, and officials finally wise to the scheme, Voltaire was no longer able to rig the French lottery after 1732. But he still managed to escape serious punishment for the fraud, likely using his influence in Paris and ties to the nobility. For a math whiz like Voltaire, the lottery scam was simply too tempting to pass up during its successful run.

Aftermath and Implications

The aftermath of Voltaire’s failed lottery scheme caused some significant impacts and changes:

– Voltaire was banned from participating in the French lottery ever again. This ended his dream of endless wealth through gaming mathematics.

– New security measures were put in place in the lottery bureaus, including locking down the drawing room and balls. This prevented further manipulation.

– France suspended the lottery for several years after the scandal. It lost the trust of the people due to Voltaire’s fraud.

– Voltaire shifted his focus more to metaphysical mathematics like calculus instead of probability theory. The lottery failure stung his pride in his analytical prowess.

– Lottery officials improved auditing of ticket purchases and bets to detect irregularities faster. This made widescale fraud much harder.

– The concept of using probability and statistics to detect fraud became more widely accepted after Voltaire. His scheme showed their potential.

So while Voltaire never faced charges for rigging the French lottery, it still marked a turning point in his life path. The affair also changed lottery regulations and math applications in France permanently. Voltaire’s dalliance with lottery fraud left quite a legacy.

Could Voltaire’s Scheme Be Replicated Today?

While national lottery systems have far more safeguards today, could a scheme like Voltaire’s still be replicated to rig the lottery? Let’s examine the possibilities:

Inside Information

Modern lotteries are run by large organizations with rigid security and separate duties. This makes inside collusion much harder. Background checks also help vet potential cheaters. Voltaire’s connections would be difficult to replicate.

Probability Analysis

The same math principles Voltaire used still apply. But current lotteries allow far more number combinations, making predictions based solely on probability math very difficult. There are too many variables. More complex analytical methods would be required.

Drawing Tampering

Physical lottery drawings are now replaced by randomized number generators, eliminating the chance to alter drawing devices. Number selections are digitally encrypted as well. It’s practically impossible to influence the actual numbers chosen today.

Ticket Purchases

Buying huge blocks of tickets is cost prohibitive due to the larger number field. Auditing of purchases is also now stricter, making large-scale fraud via ticket buys nearly impossible to pull off.

Payout Manipulation

With so many players and random combinations, payout manipulation is far trickier today. Savvy bets may win more frequently, but predicting jackpots accurately is extremely challenging.

In summary, Voltaire’s 18th century lottery ruse would be extremely difficult to implement today. But while modern lottery systems are far more secure, the basic temptation to use math and inside connections for financial gain still exists. Someone with Voltaire-level skill could still find creative methods to shift the odds and get an edge. As long as the lottery promises fortune, the incentive to cheat will remain – and some mathematical mind may eventually succeed again.


In many ways, Voltaire rigging the French national lottery aligns with his reputation as an ambitious, cunning, and analytical mind. While his methods were deceptive, they demonstrated ingenious application of emerging mathematical theories. The affair shows that Voltaire was just as focused on accumulating personal wealth as promoting intellectual advances. The lottery scheme of 1720s and early 1730s Paris perfectly encapsulates the duality of Voltaire – enlightened philosopher and cunning entrepreneur. And his mathematical proficiency mixed with ambition made him a dangerous lottery fraudster as well. Voltaire’s legacy is complex, but the evidence suggests he engineered an elaborate lottery rigging plot through probability, connections, and clever bets. When did Voltaire rig the lottery? Historical clues point to the scheme unfolding between 1728 and 1732 before ultimately unraveling. It appears Voltaire couldn’t resist outsmarting the French lottery system and padded his fortune in the process.