On Feb. 18, 1522, a secondhand clothing merchant named Geronimo Bambarara in the crowded Rialto district of Venice came up with a new way of clearing out stock.

Instead of selling his goods directly for money, he decided to enter customers in a draw. In exchange for a 1 lira ticket, they might win more than 1,000 times that amount in cash or take home prizes of carpets, cloth of gold, fabric, amber or animals. The promotion was a success. Within a week, the numbers chancing their odds resembled the crowds at the Ascension Day religious festival, according to one contemporary diarist: “At present, in this Rialto district, nothing is done except put money on the lottery.”

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