Illinois Lottery at age 45: Raising billions of dollars for schools, roads, veterans and more

The Lottery also makes more than 40 millionaires a year

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Illinois Lottery

In its first year of existence, 45 years ago, the Illinois Lottery created its first millionaire.

Her name was Irene Halley, and since then we’ve made 1,895 additional millionaires. That’s an average of more than 40 people a year who have won life-changing prizes thanks to the Illinois Lottery.

The Illinois Lottery turns 45 years old this month.

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Coincidentally, this week is Lottery Week in the North America. It’s a chance to celebrate lotteries across the U.S. and Canada and to acknowledge their contributions to the communities they serve. Jackpot winners make all the headlines, but lotteries do more than that for each state.

Lotteries also support good causes and retailers. Lottery proceeds fund different programs according to each jurisdiction’s guidelines and are dedicated to a variety of important causes, including education, environmental conservation, elderly care, tourism, economic development and more.

In Fiscal Year 2018, U.S. lotteries generated $23.4 billion for various good causes and transferred $4.8 billion to their retailer partners. In Illinois, Lottery proceeds have been used to help fund education since 1985. In Fiscal Year 2018, the Illinois Lottery transferred a record $719 million to the Common School Fund to provide funding for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Since 1985, the Illinois Lottery has contributed nearly $21 billion to education funding in the state — an achievement that reinforces our commitment to Illinois’ schools.

The Illinois Lottery’s reach, however, extends beyond education funding. Our mission is to maximize revenue in an ethical and socially responsible manner to benefit schools, capital projects and specialty causes.

On that front, the Illinois Lottery has contributed more than $450 million to capital projects in Illinois and more than $50 million to special causes such as Illinois veterans’ assistance, breast cancer awareness, HIV/AIDS awareness, multiple sclerosis research, Special Olympics training programs and police memorial funding.

We’re also proud to support our retailers, who play a critical role in our success by being a conduit to our players while selling our games. The Illinois Lottery has more than 7,200 retail locations throughout the state. In FY18, Illinois Lottery retailers earned $165 million in commissions and selling bonuses. And players were paid nearly $2 billion in prizes in FY18.

The Illinois Lottery has a long and exciting history, dating back to the early 1970s, when state Rep. E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi, from Rockford, sponsored legislation that authorized the state to conduct a lottery. The first lottery tickets were sold in Illinois on July 30, 1974, and instant tickets were first introduced in Illinois in 1975. Pick 3, which is still one of our most popular games today, debuted in 1980. Pick 4 was introduced in 1982.

In September 1984, Illinois Lottery player Michael Wittkowski won $40 million, which, at the time, was the largest jackpot in modern lottery history. Today, Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots start at $40 million.

Do you remember “$100,000 Fortune Hunt,” “Illinois Instant Riches” or “Illinois’ Luckiest”? They were Illinois Lottery gameshows that aired from 1989 through 2000.

Illinois was one of six states to first offer the multistate Big Game in 1996. In 2000, a Big Game jackpot reached $363 million, which, at the time, was a North American record. The jackpot was split between a Michigan family and a couple from Tower Lakes, Ill. In 2002, Big Game became Mega Millions.

In 2012, Illinois became the first state to sell lottery tickets on the Internet. The largest single jackpot ever won in Illinois? That was a $363 million Mega Millions jackpot won in 2017 by a Palos Heights woman.

Yes, the past 45 years have been exciting for the Illinois Lottery. We’re looking forward to celebrating the next 45 years.

Harold Mays is the acting director of the Illinois Lottery. To learn more about the Lottery, visit its website at

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