The History of the Lottery


The lottery is a game of chance that awards prizes to individuals or groups based on random selection. Its history is remarkably long, with examples dating to the Old Testament (Moses was instructed to take a census of Israel and divide land by lot) and Rome, where lottery games were common entertainment at Saturnalian feasts and other events. Lotteries have been used to distribute property and slaves, and even Benjamin Franklin organized a public lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British during the American Revolution. While many people believe that certain numbers are favored by the lottery, this is simply an illusion caused by random chance. There is no evidence that any particular number is more or less likely to win than any other. The only thing that determines the winning number is the order of the numbers drawn, and the organizers of the lottery have strict rules against rigging the results.

Most state lotteries are established to generate revenue for specific public purposes, such as education or highway construction. In the immediate post-World War II period, states believed that lotteries could expand government services without raising taxes on the working class. This belief was misguided and squandered state resources that should have been devoted to more pressing priorities, such as paying for the Vietnam War.

In addition, state lotteries have become dependent on revenues they can’t control. They are also prone to abuses, such as inflating the value of jackpot prizes (lotto jackpots are typically paid in annual installments over 20 years, with inflation dramatically eroding their current value) and misleading consumers with inaccurate or exaggerated prize amounts. Many states also encourage or tolerate a wide range of deceptive advertising practices.

Although the history of state lotteries is different, the debates surrounding them are surprisingly similar. They begin with a state legitimizing its own gambling monopoly; creating a public corporation or agency to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a cut of profits); starting out small, usually with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then expanding as pressures for additional revenues mount.

The story of the lottery demonstrates Jackson’s use of characterization methods, especially setting and actions of characters. By showing how the villagers treat each other and their behavior in general, the reader comes to understand that the lottery was nothing more than an evil act in disguise. The fact that the lottery was a game of chance is irrelevant, as all human deception and evilness is revealed in this story. Ultimately, the lottery was no more than a tool of Satan to destroy human lives. Fortunately, it was eventually destroyed by the end of the story. Nevertheless, it left a lasting impression on the readers that humans are wicked in nature. Moreover, they can’t change their wicked ways even when they are shown the consequences of their wickedness. They have a habit of destroying each other in the name of greed.