What is the Lottery?


Lottery is a game of chance in which players pay a small amount of money to win a prize of varying value. The game has a long history, with its roots in ancient times when decisions and fates were determined by casting lots. Modern state lotteries are legal and popular forms of gambling, with revenues earmarked for specific purposes such as education and public works. While lottery critics complain about compulsive gambling and the alleged regressive impact on lower income groups, these are more likely reactions to, rather than drivers of, the continuing evolution of the industry.

Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a tale about an isolated American town that holds a lottery each year. In this community, a lottery is more than just a way to win prizes, it is a means of punishing a person for his or her perceived misdeeds. The story reveals how much evil can be committed in the name of tradition and culture, as well as how humans seem to condone such practices without even considering their negative impacts.

In the story, the lottery begins the night before it is held with a meeting of the families who make up the larger population in the village. Each family is given a ticket to fill out, which they then put in the shabby black box, which resembles a relic of an earlier time. This shabby box symbolizes the tradition of the lottery as well as the illogicality of the villagers’ attachment to it.

The villagers are eager to hold the lottery, despite their reservations about its ethical implications. They eat, drink and socialize as they normally do, and they are jovial throughout the event. The lottery is meant to be a fun activity for the whole family, but it soon becomes something more serious.

When the lottery’s top prize grows to a newsworthy amount, it encourages new ticket purchases and entices current purchasers to renew their subscriptions. This enables the jackpot to grow to an even bigger prize for the next drawing, which helps keep sales strong and generates a lot of publicity for the games. While the large jackpots may attract some new customers, they can also be a deterrent for some people who are concerned about the ethics of the lottery.

Once a lottery is established, it tends to be difficult to abolish or change, as the financial benefits become embedded in state budgets and politics. Lotteries have broad support in states that offer them, with major constituencies consisting of convenience store operators (who sell the tickets), lottery suppliers (heavy contributors to state political campaigns are routinely reported), teachers in those states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education and state legislators who come to rely on the revenue stream. Few, if any, lottery officials have a clear overview of the industry’s operations, and the general public’s welfare is taken into consideration only intermittently. As a result, the evolution of lottery policies is often dictated by the interests of various groups, with little consideration for the overall public interest.