Lottery fever

Everyone likes winning, and probably even more likes playing. In our next selection, we are looking into the history of the sixty-year-old lottery. How we got to the modern lottery from the small games, from unlicensed gambling rooms to television broadcastings? The fluctuant prejudice of gambling still exists. While a class-draw was organized to fund the Millennial Exhibition in 1896, all forms of gambling were banned and kept in secret after the Second World War.

The word ‘lottery’ comes from the Italian word ‘lotto’ and means lot and prize. The lottery originates from Genoa, where senators (90 altogether) were elected with the aid of marked balls. Although the city burnt in ‘lottery fever’ only once a year, lottery rooms were opened one after the other. In the 15th century, it was Senator Benedetto Gentile, who suggested first to legalise the game so that its incomes would thrive the state. After that, a number was written next to each of the 90 candidates’ names. Prizes were regulated in a way that each purchased lottery ticket brought certain profits to the city.

Hungarian lottery conditions

lottoThe classical 5/90 lottery game, today’s ‘lottery five’ was introduced in 1763, after that the Austrian concession had been spread to Hungary. The first draw was in 1770. Between the two world wars, the state- and class-draws became popular; they were organized to support some charitable public purposes. Money was collected for orphans, for the Hungarian horse breeding, for girls’ shelter and even for animals’ protection. Interestingly, the restoration of the Matthias Church (the Church of Our Lady of Buda Castle) was realized with the aid of such lottery tickets as well. After the Second World War, almost all forms of gambling were prohibited and gambling continued illegally, but after a short period the prohibition was repealed.

In 1956, following the international trend, the government decided to introduce lottery in Hungary; we could call it cynically: a mood enhancer measure. Lottery tickets were available as of 13 February in 1957 and the first draw was on 7 March, exactly 60 years ago. In the beginning, there were drawis in the country as well, for example in Kecskemét, and hundreds of thousands of people could listen to the radio broadcasting and gamblers could worry not only about the money but also for object prizes.


The flat prizes in Budapest were not randomly chosen ones bought by the organizer, but as of the 1960s, they were built for this purpose and were called ‘Lottery houses’. The houses are still standing, though most residents of these flats were not lottery winners originally. These buildings can be seen even today: for example in Frankel Leó Street, on Margit Boulevard and in the crossing of Üllői Street and Ferenc Boulevard. Lottery playing and the lottery as a brand name were widespread: there was a Lottery Department Store (earlier it was called Plan and later Quality Dept. Store) and Lottery chocolate bars. Several hundred thousand citizens put the X hectically in the boxes, listened to the draws tensely and their unmissable Thursday evening program was the lottery draw. Draws were held on Thursday earlier and later they were on Friday. The time of draws often changed. But it was not the only strange thing about lottery. The winners’ names were not kept in secret either. The first jackpot winner was widow Mrs. Sándor Ring, who played with family numbers and won with her children’s ages. Her win was known not only by her family, but newspapers published her address, her children’s names and ages as well.

Although people are still interested in the fates of lottery winners, jackpot winners’ names are kept in secret nowadays. You can read about missed jackpots from time to time, or stories about how lottery millionaires could realise their dream lives. So what is the sum of HUF 1.88 billion enough for, and what would you do with that fortune?

Translated by Zita Aknai


More thematic virtual exhibitions