What is the Lottery?


Lottery is a low-odds game of chance that can be used in decision-making situations like sports team drafts and the allocation of scarce medical treatment. It is also a popular form of gambling, encouraging people to pay small sums for a chance at big prizes. Most state governments run lotteries, whose proceeds support a range of public goods.

In the late nineteenth century, as growing populations and the cost of wars piled up, many states found themselves short of revenue. They could raise taxes or cut public services, but both options were unpopular with voters.

As a result, some state legislatures began to sponsor lotteries, which allow people to purchase tickets for a prize such as money or land. In addition to providing a new source of funding, lottery proceeds are often touted as a means of improving education, which is typically seen as a top priority among state leaders.

Despite Protestant prohibitions against gambling, lotteries spread rapidly throughout early America and became a popular method for raising money for everything from town streets to church buildings. In the early 1700s, Harvard and Yale were largely financed by lotteries, and Benjamin Franklin held one to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.

This story, taken from Shirley Jackson’s classic short novel The Lottery, shows the many sins of human beings. In this story, Mr. Summers, the lottery organizer for a remote American village, and his assistant, Mr. Graves, arrange to distribute a set of lotteries tickets—one per family—to the large families in the village. These slips of paper are then folded and placed in a box. The names of the winners are then drawn at random.