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Congratulations to Lotería de Puerto Rico on 90 years!

May 27, 2024

NASPL Insights Online

Although the first signs of a lottery trace back to the Han Dynasty in China around 200 B.C., it wasn’t until the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, that lotteries – the way we understand them today – were created.

It's important to know the history of your industry. In any business, history offers lessons about past successes and failures that can be invaluable in planning for the future. It's one of the many reasons why our entire industry should celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first modern government-run U.S. lottery – Lotería de Puerto Rico.

The creation of lotteries in Puerto Rico dates back to the times of the Spanish colony, but the establishment of Lotería de Puerto Rico in 1934 marked the beginning of a legal lottery that has thrived for decades. While it didn’t invent scratch and lotto games or online gaming, the organization brought to the U.S. from Europe lottery ideas and concepts that are still applicable today.

Consider this: Lotería de Puerto Rico is a “traditional” lottery in which tickets are sold by vendors who spend the day walking up and down the streets, with tickets in hand, talking up the games. Other vendors display the lottery tickets for sale with signs at their shop entrances. Both tactics help further word-of-mouth tales about winners, or players who almost won the lottery.

By today's communication standards this might sound archaic to the modern lotteries in the continental U.S., but these early processes laid the foundations for lottery marketing tactics now spread throughout the industry. Winner signs at retailers, selling tickets based on the dream of winning, and even researching what price points work for players all were part of Lotería de Puerto Rico's beginnings and continue to this day.

Lotería de Puerto Rico also helped further the idea of designing a lottery where some of its revenue contributes to social causes. Puerto Rican legislator Maria Luisa Arcelay, who proposed the bill to legalize the lottery in 1934, made sure that Lotería de Puerto Rico would help fund the fight against tuberculosis.

Taking the advice of every department head within the Puerto Rican government, Governor Blanton Winship approved the lottery on May 15, 1934, with the intent that at least half of the proceeds go toward island’s health services. In its first year, Lotería de Puerto Rico raised $62,500 for health care. By 1938, Puerto Rico’s assistant commissioner of commerce reported that the lottery had contributed $350,000 annually to fund “an anti-tuberculosis drive” that the health department believed had helped reverse the death rate.

With a new law in 1989 that created a second lottery in Puerto Rico, Lotería Electrónica, the island now offers both the traditional passive draw games adored by players for 90 years and an ultra-modern lottery that offers scratch tickets, numbers games, keno and Powerball.

It's easy to see Lotería de Puerto Rico has left a lasting mark on the lottery universe. It has helped shape our industry and inspire new ideas for the future. Congratulations to Lotería de Puerto Rico on 90 years! Thank you for your contributions and allowing all of us to learn from you.

Cindy Polzin

NASPL President

Wisconsin Lottery Director 


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