By Kevin Flynn
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Extra resources for American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age
The Roman elite, the Patricians, would often hold raffles after their dinner parties. Guests received tickets and won gifts of fine goods such as cloth, art, or dinnerware. No money exchanged hands. The practice was a form of after-dinner etiquette and all guests went home with a valuable token befitting their station in the empire. Later, Emperor Augustus Caesar introduced a raffle-like public lottery in which citizens could purchase a chance to win. Prizes were often booty brought to Rome after military conquest.
This was the only legally sanctioned lottery in America at that time. The Louisiana Lottery Company was primarily made up of carpetbaggers: a syndicate of obscure New York capitalists with a few front men in New Orleans. Their setup was a virtual machine. Through slick marketing and an army of traveling salesmen, the Louisiana Lottery extended throughout the country. Word of mouth increased its popularity from Maine to California. ” It held two major drawings each month and $600,000 jackpots twice a year — worth more than 10 million in today’s dollars.
Stock prices in the company rose from $35 to $1,200 per share. Ninety percent of players resided outside of Louisiana, with the majority of tickets purchased by mail. More than half of the letters at the New Orleans post office were for the lottery. The drawings were a show onto themselves. The second Tuesday of every month, an elaborate ceremony was held at the old St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans. The room contained two five-foot-wide glass wheels on elevated platforms. The draw was conducted by two heroes of the Confederacy: Lt.