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The Lottery


Gambling goes back to ancient times, but in the State of North Dakota it only goes back to 1976. Previously, an amendment to the State Constitution in November of 1894 had banned any form of gambling. Of course that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any gambling in the state. Raffles as well as other games of chance were openly played, but only for the benefit of a charity. Law enforcement looked the other way and were occasionally even the beneficiaries of games of chance. Then in 1976, voters formally approved the practice, allowing nonprofit clubs and organizations to play games of chance for public spirited purposes.

In 2002, voters passed an initiative to provide for a state lottery, and the multi-state game of Powerball was chosen. The first large prize of $100,000 was announced in May of 2004. But this was not the first lottery prize in what is now North Dakota.

The Louisiana Lottery originated, as the name implies, in the State of Louisiana in 1868, and it soon spread to other states, even to Dakota Territory. On this date in 1883, Lt. Josiah Chance of the Seventeenth Infantry was rejoicing over a sizeable addition to his soldier’s pay by winning the lottery. Stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Lt. Chance was notified that he had received a draft on the Bismarck Bank for $30,000 – a princely sum in 1883. As a twenty year veteran of the army, Lt. Chance was asked if he planned to retire or remain in the service. He quickly responded that he didn’t feel like giving up a salary of $2,100.00 per year, having served in the army so long. He believed that with shrewd investments in land and mortgages, he could expect a total yearly income of $4,600.00 with which he could live quite comfortably being a single man.

When the Louisiana Lottery was found to be corrupt, public reaction created a whirlwind of opposition and it became banned from the mails and banned in many states. The young state of North Dakota, having recently removed the evils of alcohol from within its borders, was quick to grasp upon the public outcry, and in the November election of 1894 all forms of gambling were declared illegal.

As for officer Chance, it was reported that he received his funds, placed them in the bank, and returned to his post “wearing a smile of sunny serenity.”

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune August 3, 1883
North Dakota Centennial Blue Book 1889-1989