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Random Riches - James RAVEN

Debating the lottery in Britain c. 1750-1830

State lotteries flourished in Britain and Ireland for one hundred and thirty years from the reign of William III to that of George IV. During the eighteenth century lotteries underwrote state loans, reduced the capital or interest on the national debt, funded specific projects and raised revenue directly. From the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century Britain went to war on the proceeds of state loans raised by lotteries. Debate about the lottery related to questions of order and security, of questions of the destabilising of the imagination of the poor, the threat of the pauper made rich, the overturning of social ranks, but also the alleged ruination of the poor by gambling. In promoting state lotteries the state needed to regulate and police them - and to outlaw and prosecute rival lotteries. Control was not only a moral issue but vital to economic success. This apparently required state lotteries to be kept exclusive to those persons of sufficient understanding and education to recognise the perils of gambling - or at least to afford losses. Equally intriguing is the abandonment of the lottery as an instrument of public revenue in the early 1820s. Did it fall victim to ever more confident moral lobby of the early nineteenth century, or is its demise better explained in terms of fiscal policy? At issue is not only the effectiveness of organized opposition in transforming participation and policy-making, but also the relationship between Treasury strategies, systems of management, and the response of the market. My paper examines this history and does so by comparisons to Continental European lotteries where priorities and debates appear different to those of the British state.

James RAVEN
is a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, and Professor of Modern History at the University of Essex. He is the author of numerous books and articles on early modern and modern history.