On July 19, 2023, a lucky Los Angeles resident became one of the biggest lottery winners in U.S. history. Powerball's pot had reached over $1 billion after three months without a winning ticket. The Mega Millions, which will be drawn on July 21, is up to $720 million, also close to a record-setting value.
Lotteries have existed across cultures for a long time. From ancient Greece to the Han dynasty, people played the odds to realize an ambitious dream; other states looked to profit. In the United States, the popularity of the lottery came with European colonization, according to historian Jonathan D. Cohen's book "For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America." Despite Protestant misgivings, the profits lotteries generated were used to finance civil defense; the construction of churches; and even the founding of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
While lotteries helped fortify a new country, Americans eventually eschewed their use because of widespread concern over mishandling and mismanagement. In 1964, New Hampshire ran the first modern, state-run lottery. Now, only five states—Alabama, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada—don't offer lotteries. At the same time, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have lotteries operated by the government.
States use lotteries to raise money for administrative fees and fund public services such as education or support for veterans. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lotteries provide about 1% of state revenue annually. And what do the lucky ticket holders do with their share? Stacker compiled a list of the 15 largest lottery jackpots in U.S. history from news reports and lottery press releases.