Lottery is a popular form of gambling in which the prize money is determined by a random drawing of numbers. It has a long history dating back to the Roman Empire (Nero liked to play) and even before, with biblical references to the casting of lots for everything from who would be the next king of Israel to who got to keep Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. In its modern incarnation, lottery is a common and highly addictive pastime. In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of all adults have played the lottery at least once in their lives. This percentage increases significantly with age, rising to nearly 70% among people in their twenties and thirties. In the nineteen-seventies, the popularity of lottery accelerated along with a decline in financial security for many working families. As income gaps widened and health-care costs skyrocketed, the longstanding national promise that education and hard work would provide a secure middle class largely faded away.
In this story, Tessie is late for Lottery Day because she was doing the breakfast dishes. She arrives to find the head of her household has drawn a slip of paper with a black spot on it. Everyone else must draw again to see if they can beat the odds and win. The villagers blindly follow this outdated tradition, even though most don’t remember why it is held in the first place. Jackson uses the lottery as a metaphor for human greed and evil. People will do anything for a little bit of wealth, even if it means hurting others in the process.
The lottery was originally developed as a way to raise money for public projects, and it has been used as a fundraising tool for many state-level government and civic endeavors. In the nineteenth century, it was commonly used to fund public works projects such as paving streets and constructing buildings. Lotteries also provided the funding to establish Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and George Washington ran a lottery in Virginia in 1767 to raise funds to build a road across a mountain pass.
Today, many states have a lottery or two to help supplement their budgets. In fact, some states rely on lottery revenue more than on taxes or other forms of direct public spending. Often, the decision to hold a lottery is made in response to a pressing need for additional cash, such as after a recession or a costly war.
While there are a number of benefits to public lotteries, critics point out that they can also be detrimental to the health and welfare of the general population. They argue that lottery advertising often presents misleading information about the odds of winning the big prizes; inflates the value of the prize (most jackpots are paid in equal annual installments over 20 years, with inflation dramatically eroding the actual amount); and promotes irrational behavior and dangerously unhealthy patterns of gambling.
In addition, studies show that lottery participation tends to be higher in low-income households, and that receiving scratch tickets as a gift is associated with risky gambling behaviors and attitudes. Further, lottery profits are disproportionately distributed to minorities, who have a greater risk for developing gambling addictions.