What is the Lottery?


Lottery is a type of gambling in which people buy tickets that have numbers on them. Those who have the winning numbers get a prize. It is similar to the stock market, in that what happens depends entirely on chance or luck. Many states and countries have lottery games.

In some countries, winnings are paid out in an annuity, or monthly payments over time, while others pay them out in a lump sum. In the United States, winnings are subject to income taxes, which reduce the amount received. The tax rate varies from state to state, but is typically around 10% of the amount won.

Making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long record in human history, although not always for material gain. The first recorded public lotteries with prizes in the form of money took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, with records from Bruges and other cities showing that they were used to raise funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. The word “lottery” is probably derived from Middle Dutch loterie, and may be a calque from the French word loterie, meaning “action of drawing lots.”

Most states have their own lottery games, which are similar to traditional raffles, with players buying tickets for a chance to win a prize based on their number. The state establishes a lottery agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private company in return for a share of the profits), and starts with a small number of relatively simple games. Revenues initially expand dramatically, but eventually begin to level off and then decline. The lottery then tries to maintain revenues by continually adding new games.

While some critics of state lotteries argue that they are a form of legalized gambling, most states have laws that make the game a game of chance and not a form of gambling. The law is intended to prevent the games from being played by minors and to provide for integrity in the operation of the games. Some states have also established programs to encourage responsible gambling, which includes education and counseling for problem gamblers.

In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson shows the way that lottery games can be exploited for sinister purposes. She uses Tessie Hutchinson as a victim and scapegoat in an attempt to show how the lottery satisfies the average villager’s deep, inarticulate dissatisfaction with the social order into which he has been born by channeling it into anger directed at those who are not like him. The story is a warning against blindly following traditions, even ones that seem to be in our best interests. The villagers who gather in the town square to participate in the lottery ignore this lesson and continue to play the game, even though it is clearly abusive and cruel. Tessie’s protest of “It isn’t fair” echoes the biblical injunction, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Jackson pp. 210-213).

Categories: Gambling