What is the Lottery?


The lottery is an arrangement where a prize is awarded by chance. Prizes may be cash, goods or services. They are usually paid out by a state or private entity. They can also be used as a way to raise funds for a wide range of things. Some examples of a lottery include the lottery for kindergarten admission to a reputable school or a lottery for units in a subsidized housing block. Financial lotteries are very common and the prizes can be large. The draw for these are usually made using machines to randomly spit out numbers. Depending on the type of lottery, costs of promoting and organizing it can be deducted from the prize pool, as well as profits and taxes for organizers or sponsors.

People who play the lottery are often clear-eyed about the odds. They know that the chances of winning are very slim. And they also know that their ticket purchase is a good way to help the state. The state tries to convey this message by giving a lot of attention to how much money the jackpot has grown to an impressively newsworthy amount, and by stressing that the winner should feel good about having purchased their ticket because they did their civic duty.

It is easy to see how this approach has been successful for the lottery. It has raised enormous amounts of money for the state and its sponsors. But I don’t think it is sustainable. As the world’s populations continue to grow, and as more and more people will have access to services like education and healthcare, states will need to find other ways to raise revenue. They will also have to decide whether they want to expand their social safety nets or reduce them.

Lottery prizes may not be the right answer for them. Historically, it’s been hard for states to provide a wide array of services without having to impose particularly onerous taxes on the middle class and working class. The immediate post-World War II period was an exception, but that arrangement began to crumble in the 1960s.

The story opens with Tessie, a middle-aged housewife, washing the breakfast dishes. She’s late for The Lottery because she was doing them and “didn’t want to leave them in the sink.” At the beginning, the heads of families each draw a folded slip of paper from a box. One of the slips is marked with a black spot. The family head who draws that slip will be destined for death.